Periodontal disease, or gum disease, can cause a host of problems for you or your child. The good news is that gum disease is largely preventable.

This article explains how you can prevent gum disease - and how this malady can be treated should it strike. For more information on gum disease, please also see "Gum Disease: Types, Risk Factors & Signs."

Preventing Gum Disease

Protecting your mouth from gum disease begins with good oral health, but there are also other steps you can take.

Brush your teeth twice daily: Sticking to this habit will help you fight plaque, which carries bacteria that can cause gum disease. The American Dental Association (ADA) recommends using a soft-bristled toothbrush and fluoride toothpastes and mouth rinses.

Floss your teeth once daily: Flossing removes plaque along with food particles that are caught in between teeth and untouched by your toothbrush. Be careful to avoid flossing too violently, which can damage your gums and leave you more vulnerable to gum disease.

Avoid risk factors for gum disease: Don't smoke or chew tobacco. Be proactive in fixing defective fillings or crooked teeth. Use a mouth guard at night if you grind your teeth.

Get your checkups: Staying on track with your regular dental checkups will allow your dentist to identify possible signs of gum disease sooner rather than later. In addition, professional cleanings help combat gum disease by removing bacteria you may have missed while brushing and flossing.

Treating Gum Disease

If you're diagnosed with gum disease, there's no cause for alarm. More often than not, gum disease can be treated successfully by an experienced dentist.

According to the ADA, the first nonsurgical step to treating gum disease "usually involves a special cleaning, called 'scaling and root planning,' to remove plaque and tartar deposits on the tooth and root surfaces." This procedure, adds the ADA, "helps gum tissue to heal and periodontal pockets [between the gums and teeth] to shrink."

Once they undergo this procedure, most patients do not require additional professional treatments for gum disease. However, the American Academy of Periodontology notes that "the majority of patients will require ongoing maintenance therapy to sustain health."

For patients whose gum disease is more acute, periodontal surgery may be necessary. Several surgical options are available to address problems such as deep periodontal pockets along with inflamed tissue or loss of supporting bone around the tooth.

But remember: Regular dental checkups and good oral hygiene are the best way to prevent gum disease from developing in the first place. If you have questions or concerns about gum disease, be sure to bring them up with your dentist.