Understanding Periodontal Disease

In Dental Health by Dr. Mathew Palmer

Periodontal (gum) disease affects millions around the globe. It is the number one cause of adult tooth loss and has been associated with a host of other ailments such as diabetes, heart disease, and pregnancy complications. Nearly half of adults aged 30 and older suffer from some degree of gum disease, and the percentage increases with age.

Since the symptoms can be very subtle, many do not realize that they have gum disease until it takes a severe toll on them. Healthy gums are vital to a beautiful smile and overall oral health — they look less appealing when the gums don’t form a tight seal. However, more significant issues can arise if it is not treated in a timely fashion is when the disease.

Periodontal diseases are a group of diseases, all pointing to one major problem: an issue with the structures in and around the teeth. There are several types:

  • Gingivitis is a widespread mild form of periodontal disease with swollen red gums.
  • Chronic periodontitis involves tissue inflammation that preserves the teeth characterized by gums that detach from the teeth. If untreated, it can become more aggressive. 
  • Aggressive periodontitis leads to the rapid loss of gum tissue. 
  • Periodontal necrotizing diseases are rare and are most likely found in those with preexisting conditions such as immunosuppression. 

How do I know if I have periodontal disease?

In its early phase, called gingivitis, the gums become swollen and red due to inflammation, which is the natural response of the body to harmful bacteria. Gingivitis can cause gum redness and swelling, which can bleed when patients are brushing or flossing. It can lead to persistently bad breath. Patients should book a visit with us as soon as those symptoms are noticed.

The gums pull away from the tooth and supporting gum tissues are destroyed in the more severe form of periodontal disease called periodontitis. The teeth may also be loosened or fall out.

What causes Periodontal Disease?

Our mouths are filled with bacteria. Along with mucus and other particles, these bacteria form a sticky “plaque” on the teeth. Brushing and flossing help loosen the plaque. The plaque which is not removed can harden and form “tartar,” which can’t be cleaned by brushing. Tartar can only be cleaned with a professional cleaning by a dentist or dental hygienist.

There are several ways gum disease can be exacerbated, but the most significant is smoking. Other conditions that can increase the risk include diabetes, hormonal changes in girls and women; diabetes; saliva-lowering medicines; certain diseases, such as AIDS, and their drugs; and genetic susceptibility.

What can I do to prevent periodontal disease?

Periodontal disease treatment depends upon how far the disease has progressed. 

If you have the mildest form of periodontal disease – gingivitis – treatment starts with a trip to your dental hygienist for thorough cleaning of your teeth to remove plaque and tartar. This process will include a procedure known as scaling, where the hygienist scrapes from your teeth hardened deposits, both above and below the gum line. 

If your gums are already inflamed and tender, this can be a bit uncomfortable, but it is a necessary treatment, and your mouth should start feeling better over two to three days.

More advanced periodontal disease is likely to require a visit from a periodontist, a dental practitioner specializing in gum disease. The goal of treatment is to get the infection under control. The periodontist will first clean the pockets around the teeth and then close them with sutures so that they will “hug” your teeth again and support them properly. The periodontist will sometimes apply an antibiotic gel to kill off bacteria.

If the disease has progressed to the point where the teeth are lost, a prosthodontist will carry out an exam and a treatment plan to replace the missing teeth. Dentures, bridges, and dental implants are excellent options for replacing periodontal disease-lost teeth.

How do I prevent periodontal disease?

Here is some general advice to maintain healthy gums:

  • Brush twice a day
  • Floss between your teeth once a day
  • Consult your dentist regularly for a check-up and professional cleaning
  • Show your dentist or dental hygienist how to brush and clean your teeth, and ask if you can improve it in some way.
  • Stop smoking.

If you have gum disease, then you should seek treatment as soon as possible. Even if you haven’t been diagnosed with the condition, scheduling routine screenings, and protecting your oral health are essential. To set up an appointment, contact us today.