Gum Disease in Children

Find out what types of gum disease affect children. This way, you'll know how to take better care of your child's mouth. Keep reading.
Gum Disease in Children
Vanesa Evangelina Buffa

Written and verified by the dentist Vanesa Evangelina Buffa.

Last update: 11 January, 2023

Gingivitis is the most common gum disease, but there are other diseases that manifest themselves in children’s gum tissue that you should know about.

Gums surround and support the teeth. When they’re healthy, their color is pale pink and their texture is similar to orange peel, with crisp, sharp edges. However, when they change color, swell, bleed, or hurt, this indicates that something’s not quite right. In the following article, we’ll tell you about gum disease in children.

When children’s gums get sick

Although gum disease is more common among adults, it can also occur in children.

Of all the diseases that can develop in the gum tissue, gingivitis caused by bacterial plaque is the most common. But children can also suffer from chronic, aggressive, and necrotizing periodontitis. There are even other diseases of the mouth that also affect the gums.

For this reason, we’re going to detail each of the causes that can affect this tissue in the mouth of your children. Keep reading!

Gingivitis

A child with gingivitis.

As we’ve already mentioned, gingivitis is the most common disease of the gingival tissue. In fact, it’s also known as gum disease, as if it were the only disorder affecting the gums.

Gingivitis is usually caused by the accumulation of bacterial plaque on tooth surfaces and gum tissue. This is an invisible, sticky layer formed by food debris and certain oral germs.

When not properly removed, plaque builds up and can even calcify with minerals in the mouth, giving rise to tartar. This calcification and the bacterial toxins irritate and damage the gums and, in the end, trigger a very significant inflammatory process.

In addition to the above, there are other situations that cause gingivitis in children, such as genetic predisposition, the use of orthodontics, certain medical conditions, the consumption of certain medications, or hormonal changes that are typical of puberty.

Inflammation of the gums is manifested by swelling and reddening of the gingival tissue. In addition, these structures become very sensitive, bleed easily, and cause bad breath in the child.

Treatment is simple: It consists of eliminating bacterial plaque and performing daily oral hygiene with proper technique.

Periodontitis

Periodontitis or periodontal disease is the evolution of gingivitis. In this case, the problem is deeper and affects the tissues that support the teeth.

Pockets are formed between the gingival margin and the base of the teeth. Inside these pockets, bacteria accumulate and develop a larger infectious focus, which progresses until it completely destroys the supporting tissues.

The involvement of the alveolar bone is one of the most notorious complications of this disease. With bone loss appears tooth mobility, which, in the most advanced and severe cases, can lead to tooth loss.

Aggressive periodontitis that occurs in children produces a rapid loss of the interproximal bone and this usually occurs in several members of the family. For this reason, prompt action is needed as soon as symptoms appear.

Treatment usually requires the intervention of a periodontist to perform scaling and root planing. The use of systemic antibiotics is usually necessary and, of course, the control of bacterial plaque with good dental hygiene practices.

There’s periodontitis associated with certain systemic diseases, such as Down syndrome, Papillon-Lefévre syndrome, cyclic neutropenia, and leukocyte adherence deficit.

Necrotizing periodontitis

This is one of the rarest gum diseases of childhood, and its prevalence is estimated at 1% in Europe and 2-5% in Africa, Asia, and South America.

Necrotizing periodontitis is often associated with severe malnutrition, certain viral infections, and some immunodeficiencies.

This condition is characterized by the destruction of the interproximal papillae, i.e. the gum between one tooth and another. As a result, the area becomes covered with a yellowish-gray membrane and produces a lot of pain, an unpleasant odor, and fever.

To avoid irreversible necrosis of the interdental papilla and severe bone loss, treatment should begin as soon as possible. It consists of cleaning the area, using antibiotics, ultrasound therapy, and improving oral hygiene.

Other situations

  • Infection by herpes simplex virus type I: the first contact with this virus occurs in young children and manifests in the form of fever, gingivitis, and a lot of pain in the mouth. In the beginning, the lesions are like small blisters, and then, they ulcerate and are covered with a membrane. The inflammation of the gums is very noticeable and usually produces abundant salivation and food rejection. The process lasts between 10 and 20 days and heals by itself, leaving no scars.
  • Thrush: This infection is characteristic of infants and is caused by the fungus candida albicans. It’s characterized by the appearance of white plaques, similar to yogurt, on the palate, tongue, and inner cheeks. Sometimes they’re also located on the gingival tissue. In general, it doesn’t cause discomfort and resolves easily with timely treatment.
A baby with thrush.

How to prevent gum disease in children?

Taking care of children’s oral health begins with the incorporation of oral hygiene habits from an early age.

Here are some tips that can help you preserve the health of your children’s gum tissue:

  • Explore your child’s mouth: Frequently observe the appearance of your child’s gums, mucous membranes, and teeth. If you notice anything unusual, consult a professional as soon as possible.
  • Ensure proper brushing: Adults are responsible for cleaning your baby’s gums and teeth. You should do it at least twice a day. First with a wet gauze and, when the teeth erupt, with a soft toothbrush and fluoride toothpaste in the appropriate dosage.
  • Use plaque disclosers: When children get older and can take charge of their toothbrushing, the use of plaque disclosers can be a great help. These products help visualize what needs to be removed and where to pay more attention.
  • Keep an eye out for harmful habits: Detect harmful oral habits early and correct them. This will help children maintain the health of their gums and mouth in general.
  • Visit the dentist frequently: Take your child to the pediatric dentist before their first birthday and continue with visits every 6 months. The professional will help you take care of their oral health.

With these simple practices, you’ll offer your child the best health habits that will accompany them throughout their life. And what’s more, they can enjoy a radiant smile throughout their childhood.

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The contents of You Are Mom is for educational and informational purposes only. At no time do they replace the diagnosis, advice, or treatment from a professional. If in doubt, it's best to consult a trusted specialist.