Many parents think gum disease is something their kids don't have to worry about until they are adults. However, children and teens are as equally prone to getting gingivitis and periodontal disease as people in other age groups. According to a study conducted by the Illinois Department of Public Health, about 42 percent of children examined had gingivitis. Here are the different types of gum disease that can affect kids and some of the treatment options available.

Types of Pediatric Gum Disease

Possibly the most common type of gum disease children experience is gingivitis. This is actually the first stage of periodontal disease and is characterized by red, swollen gum tissue that bleeds easily. This disease is the result of waste products produced by bacteria in the mouth. As such, any child of any age can get gingivitis, including babies. Mild gingivitis will often resolve itself with improved dental hygiene, but severe forms will typically require treatment by a pediatric dentist.

If gingivitis is left untreated, it can advance into aggressive periodontitis. This form of gum disease mostly affects teens and young adults. It's considered aggressive because only a small amount of plaque buildup is usually responsible for damaging the alveolar bone, which is responsible for holding teeth in place. The bacteria is usually found primarily on molars and incisors, possibly because these teeth come into contact with food and drinks most often and it can be difficult to thoroughly clean back teeth.

A third type of gum disease that can affect kids is generalized aggressive periodontitis. This condition usually develops at the start of puberty and is characterized by the heavy accumulation of calculus and plaque that cause significant inflammation in the gums and lead to gum recession, ulcerated gum tissue, and pain. A combination of things contributes to the development of this type of gum disease. The increase of progesterone and other hormones can make gums more sensitive and easily irritated. Secondly, teens this age tend not to be a rigorous about their oral hygiene.

Causes of Pediatric Gum Disease

By and far, the most common reason children develop gum disease is because of poor dental hygiene. When kids don't clean their teeth on a regular basis, it allows bacteria to flourish in the mouth and cause oral problems such as cavities and gum disease.

Other factors that may contribute to gum disease include:

  • Genetics
  • Diabetes
  • Hormones
  • Sleeping with mouth open (this can cause dry mouth and saliva production is important for washing away harmful bacteria)
  • Crooked teeth
  • Wearing braces or other orthodontic appliances
  • Eating too much sugar
  • Poor diet
  • The use of or exposure to tobacco products
  • Autoimmune disorders
  • Bruxism
  • Certain medications that impact oral functioning (e.g. reduce saliva production)

Treating Pediatric Gum Disease

The best treatment for gum disease in children and teens depends on the severity of the problem and the person's age, medical history, and tolerance for specific remedies.

As noted previously, very mild cases of gingivitis can be treated by improving oral hygiene (e.g. flossing once per day, brushing twice a day, and using an antiseptic mouthwash). Parents can reduce the risk of their babies getting gum disease by following the recommendation by the American Dental Association to start brushing their kids' mouths the moment their first tooth erupts.

If the problem is more advanced, the dentist may deep clean the teeth to remove the plaque causing the problems and smooth out the surfaces of the teeth where bacteria often try to hide. The dentist may also prescribe medication such as a special toothpaste or mouthwash to help eradicate any remaining infection and stimulate gum tissue growth.

For severe cases, surgery may be required to rectify the problem. Surgical options include

  • Pocket reduction – This involves pulling the gum tissue away from the teeth to access and clean the roots.
  • Tissue regeneration or soft tissue graft – If the child or teen has lost a significant amount of gum tissue, the dentist may transplant tissue from another part of the mouth or use an artificial product to help stimulate growth.
  • Crown lengthening – This entails removing gum tissue and/or bone to expose more of the tooth. This may be required to place a crown to protect the tooth and gums from further damage and discourage bacteria growth.

For more information about pediatric gum disease, speak to a pediatric dentist from a clinic like Apollo Dental Center in your area.