Can kids have gum disease?

We may associate periodontal disease with adults, but most people don’t know that children and teens are also at risk for gum disease, or its milder form, gingivitis. When bacteria and food build up on teeth and form plaque, that plaque can then harden into tartar. The more tartar on the teeth, the more plaque builds up on it. Heavy accumulations of plaque and calculus can harm the gums, and cause periodontal disease.

The first sign of gum disease is red and swollen gums that may bleed during brushing and flossing. It can also cause bad breath that doesn’t get better with brushing. As the condition advances, teeth may actually feel loose and wiggly, and form pockets below the gum line that allow plaque to flourish.

Does your child have any of these signs?

  • Bleeding gums
  • Puffiness or swelling around the gumline
  • Loose or wiggly teeth
  • Gums that have receded away from the teeth
  • Chronic bad breath

In children, the main cause of gingivitis is poor dental hygiene. Understandably, children are not always good at reaching all of the places on their teeth and gum line that need brushing and flossing, and often don’t spend enough time in their dental hygiene routines.

In addition to poor dental hygiene habits, hormonal changes that occur during the puberty can also put teens at greater risk for periodontal disease. An increase in hormones can increase blood circulation to the gums, causing more sensitivity and a greater reaction to irritants such as food and plaque. As puberty progresses, this increased sensitivity will lessen, but their dental hygiene regimen should be carefully monitored, especially in the early teen years.

Early diagnosis is important for successful treatment of periodontal diseases.
Your family dentist should perform a periodontal examination during routine visits, and make recommendations for hygiene adjustments and treatment options if any gum disease is present. If your child has an advanced stage of periodontal disease, a medical evaluation should also be considered, as it may be an indicator of a systemic health condition.

Make sure your child is protected from gum disease by:

  • Establishing good dental hygiene habits early in life, and carefully monitoring their habits as they grow up.
  • Be a good role model: let them see you take good care of your own teeth and gums
  • Provide regular dental visits for evaluations and cleanings
  • Monitor your child’s mouth for signs of gum disease at all stages of development

You can read more about gum disease in children at the American Academy of Periodontology website.

The AAP recently partnered with the Ad Council to promote healthy oral habits in children. Check out the website for fun and informative solutions for you AND your children, including apps, challenges, checklists, videos, and more!