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Gum Disease-is it only for adults?

The causes and effects of tooth decay are generally well known to parents however, gum health is an important topic that is often overlooked in children and adolescents. Gums are sometimes referred to as periodontal tissues and that literally means the bone and soft pink tissues that support the tooth. Gums are also known as gingivae. Healthy gums should look pink and firm and should not bleed when brushing.

Gingivitis is the most common type of gum disease in children. It results from food and bacteria gathering at the gum margins which leads to irritation and inflammation. Whilst it is a reversible condition, it can develop in a matter of days if teeth and gums are not brushed. The good news is that this type of gum disease is both preventable and treatable with a regular routine of brushing, flossing and professional dental care. Periodontitis is the term used to describe irreversible damage to the tissues around the tooth and in children can indicate more serious problems.

When you are brushing your child’s teeth there are a number of signs to look out for which can which can alert you to gum disease:

· Bleeding gums during tooth brushing, flossing or any other time

· Swollen and bright red gums

· Gums that have receded away from the teeth, sometimes exposing the roots

· Constant bad breath that does not clear up with brushing and flossing

As if puberty wasn’t tough enough for parents and teens, hormonal changes related to puberty put adolescents at greater risk for the development of gum disease. During puberty, an increased level of hormones, such as progesterone and possibly estrogen, cause increased blood circulation to the gums. This may cause an increase in the gum's sensitivity and lead to a greater reaction to any irritation, including food particles and plaque. It is often harder to encourage good oral hygiene in this age group and therefore it may be useful if a positive message comes from someone an adolescent already has a rapport with such as their dentist. The idea that good gum health is part of looking good and being attractive to friends and peers can be a powerful motivation.

Some children and teens with excellent oral hygiene develop an aggressive type of gum disease. The causes for this are less well understood. Often there is a family history or the condition can be an indication that a child’s immune system is not functioning in a healthy way. Children with Down syndrome and diabetes have an especially high risk of gum disease. As with so many aspects of health early detection and diagnosis is important for successful treatment. The most important preventive action against periodontal disease is to establish good oral health habits with your child from a young age. The four basic steps to help your child maintain good oral health are:

Establish good dental hygiene habits early

Start cleaning your child’s mouth from the time the first teeth erupt. When the gaps between your child's teeth close, it is important to start flossing.

Serve as a good role model by practicing good dental hygiene habits yourself.

Schedule regular dental visits for check-ups, gum inspections and cleanings.

Check your child's mouth

for the signs of gum disease, including bleeding gums, swollen and bright red gums, gums that are receding away from the teeth and bad breath.

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