Periodontal Disease

Periodontal disease, also known as gum disease or gingivitis, affects as much as 75% of the population!  It is very serious, as it is a leading cause of tooth loss and it has been linked to heart disease.  But what is periodontal disease?  Basically, periodontal disease starts with plaque.

perio2Plaque continually forms on your teeth and gums. If it does not get cleaned off, it hardens and turns into calculus, or tartar.  The only way to remove calculus is by getting your teeth professionally cleaned at a dental office.  If the calculus is not removed, it causes pockets to form in the gums.  It makes the gums detach from the tooth’s surface, which allows bacteria to enter the gums and cause infection and inflammation.

At this point there may be some pain, but not always.  The gums will become red and swollen and eventually the bacteria will cause damage to the gums, teeth and bone.  The longer this goes untreated, the larger and more bacteria filled the pockets get.  The bone around the tooth eventually will dissolve and cause the tooth to become loose and fall out.

Periodontal Disease most commonly affects adults over 30, however there are other risk factors that increase your chances of periodontal disease.

-Smoking:  Smoking is highly associated with gum disease and it also inhibits the treatment of gum disease.

-Diabetes:  People with diabetes are at higher risk to get infections, including periodontal disease.

-Medications:  Certain medications cause dry mouth as a side effect, and this can be harmful to your teeth and gums.  Without enough saliva, the mouth becomes more prone to infections, such as gum disease.  Dry mouth can also make it difficult to keep teeth and gums clean.

-Genetics:  If your parents have gum problems, you may encounter them too.

Periodontal disease does not always show symptoms right away, however, common symptoms include:

-Redness and swelling in gums.  They may feel tender and bleed easily.

-Tooth sensitivity, or pain when chewing

-Bad breath that is difficult to cure

-Loose teeth

-Receding gumline or teeth that appear to look long

If you have any of these symptoms, you should see your general dentist to have it checked out.  Your dentist will do a few things to check for periodontal disease.  He will take an x-ray to check for bone loss, examine your gums for signs of infection, and probe your gums to measure the depth of the pockets.  Normal pocket depths are usually 1 – 3 millimeters, however, infected pockets can be much larger.  Probing is very quick and often painless.

If the dentist discovers you have periodontal disease, he will create a plan for your treatment.  It is important to get the infection under control as soon as possible.  If the infection is very bad, the patient will have to be referred to a periodontist, a dentist that specializes in gum treatment.

The best way to remove plaque from the gum pockets is to have a deep cleaning. This is also called scaling and root planing. In a deep cleaning, the dentist or dental hygienist will use instruments to remove calculus from both above and below the gumline.  They will also smooth the root surface to prevent bacteria from staying there.  Scaling and root planing is usually not painful, and if necessary, the dentist will numb the area before working on it.

In addition to the doctor treating the gums, the patient must also practice good oral hygiene at home and take precautions to keep the infection from returning.  This can include brushing and flossing more, making changes to their diet, and quitting smoking.

Proper dental care is essential to preventing and combatting periodontal disease.  Be sure to practice good oral hygiene at home and have your teeth cleaned and checked by your dentist twice a year to ensure a healthy mouth.