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February is National Children's Dental Health Month, and the American Academy of Periodontology is kicking it off by educating children and parents about the U.S. Surgeon General's number one concern: the prevention of dental diseases - including periodontal disease in children.

Many people think of periodontal disease as an adult problem. However, studies indicate that gingivitis (the first stage of periodontal disease) is nearly a universal finding in children and adolescents. Advanced forms of periodontal disease are more rare in children than adults, but can occur.


Chronic gingivitis: common in children. It usually causes gum tissue to swell, turn red and bleeds easily. Gingivitis is both preventable and treatable with a regular routine of brushing, flossing and professional dental care. However, left untreated, it can eventually advance to more serious forms of periodontal disease.

Aggressive periodontitis: can affect young people who are otherwise healthy. Localized aggressive periodontitis is found in teenagers and young adults and mainly affects the first molars and incisors. It is characterized by the severe loss of alveolar bone, and ironically, patients generally form very little dental plaque or calculus.

Generalized aggressive periodontitis: may begin around puberty and involve the entire mouth. It is marked by inflammation of the gums and heavy accumulations of plaque and calculus. Eventually it can cause the teeth to become loose.

Periodontitis associated with systemic disease: occurs in children and adolescents as it does in adults. Conditions that make children more susceptible to periodontal disease include
o Type I diabetes
o Down syndrome
o Papillon-Lefevre syndrome
For example, in a survey of 263 Type I diabetics, 11 to 18 years of age, 10 percent had overt periodontitis.


Four basic signs will alert you to periodontal disease in your child:

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

Puffiness: Swollen and bright red gums

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

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


Evidence shows that periodontal disease may increase during adolescence due to lack of motivation to practice oral hygiene. Children who maintain good oral health habits up until the teen years are more likely to continue brushing and flossing than children who were not taught proper oral care.

Hormonal changes related to puberty can put teens at greater risk for getting periodontal disease. During puberty, an increased level of sex 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. During this time, the gums may become swollen, turn red and feel tender.

As a teen progresses through puberty, the tendency for the gums to swell in response to irritants will lessen. However, during puberty, it is very important to follow a good at-home oral hygiene regimen, including regular brushing and flossing, and regular dental care. In some cases, a dental professional may recommend periodontal therapy to help prevent damage to the tissues and bone surrounding the teeth.


Early diagnosis is important for successful treatment of periodontal diseases. Therefore, it is important that children receive a periodontal examination as part of their routine dental visits. Be aware that if your child has an advanced form of periodontal disease, this may be an early sign of systemic disease.

A general medical evaluation should be considered for children who exhibit severe periodontitis, especially if it appears resistant to therapy.

Many medications can dry out the mouth or pose other threats to oral health. Be sure to tell your dental professional about any medications your family members are taking.

Monitor your family to see if anyone has the habit of teeth grinding. Grinding can increase the risk of developing periodontal disease, in addition to causing cracked or chipped teeth. Dentists can make custom-fitted night bite guards to prevent teeth grinding at night.

Researchers suggest periodontal disease can pass through saliva. This means that the common contact of saliva in families may put children and couples at risk for contracting the periodontal disease of another family member. If one family member has periodontal disease, all family members should see a dental professional for a periodontal evaluation.

The most important preventive step against periodontal disease is to establish good oral health habits with your child. There are basic preventive steps to help your child maintain good oral health:

Establish good oral health habits early. When your child is 12 months old, you can begin using toothpaste when brushing his or her teeth. However, only use a pea-sized portion on the brush and press it into the bristles so your child won't eat it. And, when the gaps between your child's teeth close, it's important to start flossing.

Serve as a good role model by practicing good oral health care habits yourself.

Schedule regular dental visits for family checkups, periodontal evaluations and cleanings.

Check your child's mouth for the signs of periodontal disease, including bleeding gums, swollen and bright red gums, gums that are receding away from the teeth and bad breath.

If your child currently has poor oral health habits, work with your child to change these now. It's much easier to modify these habits in a child than in an adult. Since your child models behavior after you, it follows that you should serve as a positive role model in your oral hygiene habits. A healthy smile, good breath and strong teeth all contribute to a young person's sense of personal appearance, as well as confidence and self-esteem.

For more information on how to keep your children’s teeth healthy visit a Pediatric Dentist (specialist in children’s oral health) or visit


CHICAGO – February 28, 2000 – Severe periodontal inflammation is often seen in children with Down syndrome (DS). A study released today in the February issue of the Journal of Periodontology found that various periodontal bacteria colonize in the early childhood of people with DS. And, P. gingivalis, a type of bacteria with a strong correlation to severe periodontal disease, increases in prevalence with age in those with DS, playing an important role in the onset of periodontal disease.

While children with DS often exhibit inflammation of the gum tissue, researchers on this study believe they maintain enough immunity to protect them from severe periodontal destruction until they reach their late teens or early 20s.

In addition, all children should receive a periodontal examination as part of their routine dental visit. Although there is a much lower prevalence of severe periodontal disease in children than adults, severe forms of periodontal disease do occur in some children. As these forms progress quickly, early diagnosis is key in maintaining oral health.


CHICAGO – January 5, 2001 – When you are 26, tooth loss is not likely to be a major concern in your life. However, based on results of a new study published in the Journal of Periodontology, about one in seven 26-year-olds already has well-established periodontal disease, a major cause of tooth loss in adults.

Researchers in New Zealand have been regularly examining about 1,000 children since their births in 1972 and 1973 to track various aspects of their health. Dental exams on 914 of the study members at age 26 revealed that attachment loss, pockets and bleeding gums - all signs of periodontal disease - were not all that uncommon. And, most alarmingly, nearly 75 percent had receding gums in at least one site.

Most studies on the prevalence of periodontal disease have focused on middle-aged or older people. Because it tends to be more prevalent and advanced in these age groups, periodontal disease is often overlooked as a disease that affects young people.

By looking at periodontal health status in a younger age group, researchers hope to highlight to dental professionals the importance of screening for periodontal disease among all age groups so that it can be caught early, and appropriate interventions can be used before the disease progresses. PerioArtist

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