What is Periodontal (gum) Disease?
Periodontal disease (gum disease) is a bacterial infection of the supporting tissues (both gum and bone) of the teeth. It is the most common cause of tooth loss and affects a majority of adults (3 out of 4) in some form over the age of 35.
Causes of Periodontal Disease
Periodontal disease is caused by the accumulation of plaque on the teeth and in-between the teeth and gums. Plaque is a sticky film of bacteria, which when allowed to accumulate, particularly in the spaces between the teeth and gums, creates an infection that causes gum inflammation and, in later stages, bone loss around the teeth. Other factors include smoking, genetics, pregnancy, stress, diabetes, medications, clenching or grinding, poor nutrition, and other systemic diseases that cause your immune system to become depressed.
Gingivitis: The earliest stage and most easily treated. It is characterized by red, swollen gums that have a tendency to bleed easily. It can be reversed by diligent daily brushing and flossing. Probe depth still normal.
Periodontal Case Type I
Mild to moderate periodontitis: Destruction of tissue and bone begin. Professional treatment is required. Probe depth 4 - 6 mm.
Periodontal Case Type II
Periodontal Case Type III
Advanced periodontitis: Progression of moderate periodontitis, marked by more tissue and bone loss. Often surgery is required to restore gingival health. The longer periodontitis is left untreated, the more likely teeth are to be lost.
Periodontal Case Type IV
Signs of Periodontal (Gum) Disease
gums that bleed when you brush or floss
red, swollen, or tender gums
gum recession (exposed roots)
pus between your teeth and gums
pain when biting
hard, cream or brown colored deposits on teeth (tartar or calculus)
change in the way your teeth fit together when you bite
a change in the fit of partial dentures
If you detect any of the above signs, please call your dentist and make an appointment for a periodontal evaluation. The earlier you detect periodontal disease, the easier it is to treat. In the gingivitis stage, it is easily reversed by diligent daily brushing and flossing. In the periodontitis stage, professional care is necessary. Periodontitis is not curable. It is a disease that, like diabetes, is controlled but not cured.
Detection and Treatment
Your dental hygienist is your first line of defense when it comes to detecting and treating periodontal disease. At every dental hygiene visit, your dental hygienist should evaluate the gum tissues, taking measurements (called probe readings) around every tooth. These measurements, along with x-rays, allow the dentist to evaluate bone level and overall gingival health. Normal measurements are in the 2-3 mm range. The deeper the measurement (called pockets), the more severe the problem.
Your dentist and dental hygienist may recommend non-surgical treatment, called root debridement or root planing, to treat moderate stages of periodontal disease (4 to 6 mm pockets), which is done by your dental hygienist. For more advanced stages, surgery may be needed and you will be referred to a periodontist (gum specialist).
Once periodontal disease is treated, more frequent appointments are needed to maintain periodontal health and patients are asked to come in every 3-4 months for care, rather than the standard six months.
Healthy gums: tissue is firm, pink in color and does not bleed when brushed or flossed. Probe measurements 1-3 mm in depth.
Here are some tips for healthy gums:
Brush at least twice daily
, for a minimum of two minutes each time.
The importance of this simple task cannot be understated! Floss or interdental cleaners remove bacteria from areas in-between the teeth that the toothbrush cannot possibly reach. If you are uncomfortable flossing or need tips on how to do it, your dental hygienist will be happy to help you!
. Smoking is a very significant risk factor for periodontal disease, among many other diseases and conditions!
Eat a balanced diet
Visit your dentist regularly. Professional cleanings by your dental hygienist and exams by your dentist on a regular basis (at least every six months) are essential to preventing periodontal disease.
Periodontal Disease Linked to Heart Disease and Other Conditions
Recent research has linked periodontal disease to increased risk of heart attacks and heart disease. In pregnant women, it is linked to low birth weight babies.
The good news is that periodontal disease is easily prevented by good oral hygiene at home and regular visits to your dentist and dental hygienist.
Check out the following links for information about periodontal disease and its connection to heart attacks, strokes and other diseases!