Gum disease isn’t a problem that only affects adults. The condition can develop in children, too, especially if a child doesn’t have a good oral care routine. About 50 percent of children have some type of periodontal disease, according to the Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin. Children’s dietary habits can put them at a greater risk for gum disease, as can some medical conditions, lifestyle habits and genes.
Causes of Gum Disease in Children
One major cause of periodontal disease in kids is their diet. Some children, particularly teenagers, eat a diet that’s full of sugary foods. Regular consumption of sodas, candy and other sweets increases a child’s risk for the condition. Foods that are high in starch, such as French fries and pastries, also increase a child’s risk for gum disease, especially if a child is eating those foods during school or after school and isn’t able to brush his or her teeth right away.
Hormonal changes that occur at puberty can lead to gum disease in early adolescents. Teenage girls are more likely to develop gum problems due to hormone fluctuations. Some girls might find that their gums are more sensitive and more likely to bleed just before their period begins.
Children who have certain conditions can have a higher risk for developing periodontal disease. For example, the disease is more common in people with diabetes, either Type 1 or Type 2, as the higher blood sugar levels create a more welcome environment for plaque and bacteria. Auto-immune disorders also increase a child’s risk for gum disease, as do oral problems such as dry mouth or teeth grinding.
During the teen years, it’s common for some children to take up smoking and tobacco use. Tobacco use is one of the leading causes of gum disease in adults, and in teenagers, too.
Types of Gum Disease in Children
Children can develop one of three types of periodontal disease. The first type is chronic gingivitis, which is fairly common and usually easily treatable. When a child has gingivitis, the gums might be swollen, tender and bleed easily.
Without treatment, gingivitis can progress to aggressive periodontal disease, either of the entire mouth or localized. Localized periodontal disease typically occurs near the back teeth and usually leads to bone loss, but has little plaque buildup. Generalized aggressive periodontal disease typically features plaque and tartar buildup and inflammation. Without treatment, the teeth can become loose and fall out.
Children with advanced periodontal disease should see a trained and experienced periodontist for treatment. A deep cleaning of the teeth and gums might be needed to remove plaque and bacteria. Antibiotics can also help clear up an infection in the mouth. Depending on how much the condition has progressed, a teenager might need surgery to restore lost gum tissue or to close deep pockets between the teeth.
Oral Hygiene Tips
Along with treatment from a periodontist, a child or teenager can help reduce his or her risk of gum disease or help manage the disease by adopting better oral hygiene habits. Children should brush their teeth at least twice a day, or after they eat. Flossing at least once daily is also a must.
Teaching children to brush for long enough is also important. Everyone should brush their teeth for at least two or three minutes. Some toothbrushes feature a built-in timer that goes off after the allotted time has past. A teen can also play a song while he or she brushes to time the process.
The toothpaste a child uses also matters. Non-fluoride toothpastes don’t do nearly as good a job as toothpastes that contain fluoride at preventing cavities and removing plaque. Some children can also benefit from using a mouthwash with fluoride.
Adopting better habits can also lower a child’s risk for gum disease or help treat the condition. Parents can encourage their kids to eat a healthier diet to avoid developing tooth and gum problems. Low sugar and low starch foods are preferable. Child should switch to water or other drinks without sugar, instead of juices and soda.
Regular, twice-yearly dental checkups will also help keep a child’s mouth healthy. Parents can work with a child’s dentist to come up with treatment plan or to figure out ways to improve a child’s oral hygiene.
One of the most important ways to protect a teen’s or child’s oral health is to have them not start using tobacco. Parents and teachers can stress the importance of avoiding smoking, not just because it puts a person at risk for gum disease, but also because it increases a teen’s risk for other health problems.
If your child has signs of gum disease or periodontal disease, he or she should be seen by a periodontist. Drs. Gallardo and Lamas are able to discuss treatment and prevention options with you and your child. For an appointment in the Miami area, call 305-447-1447 today.