Periodontal disease is an inflammatory disease affecting the soft tissue and hard structures supporting the teeth. It also is the leading cause of tooth loss in adults.
Periodontal disease, also called gum disease, begins with plaque accumulation. Plaque is a sticky bio-film that results when sugars and starches interact with already present bacteria in the mouth. Proper brushing and flossing may remove accumulated plaque, but when left on the teeth for more than a few days, it forms into tartar, or calculus, which can only be removed by a dentist or dental hygienist.
The toxins secreted by the bacteria in plaque and tartar initially trigger gum inflammation, also known as gingivitis. Gingivitis is the mildest form of periodontal disease. If this inflammation is left untreated, plaque will accumulate around the teeth in areas deeper than the patient can reach with their own brush or floss. Left undisturbed, the bacterial toxins destroy the fine fibers that support the tooth, allowing the gum ‘pocket’ to become deeper. At this stage the condition is termed periodontitis, or periodontal disease. Eventually, enough tissue fibers and bone loss can occur to cause the teeth to loosen.
More importantly, the toxic inflammatory cells find their way into the body’s circulatory system via capillaries lining the gum pocket. Current medical research supports the fact that these inflammatory cells travel through every organ of the body and have potential long term negative effects on one’s general health.
Risk factors of gum disease include:
- Smoking – patients who smoke have a decreased healing response to inflammation.
- Pregnancy – hormonal fluctuations may contribute to gingivitis.
- Diabetes – patients diagnosed with diabetes are at higher risk for developing infections including gum disease.
- Medications – certain medications can affect the flow of saliva, lower the oral pH or contribute to proliferation of gingival cells, all contributing to gum inflammation.
- Genetic susceptibility – genetic factors play a role in one’s susceptibility to periodontal disease.
- Ineffective oral hygiene measures – contribute to plaque accumulation resulting in gingivitis.
Signs that you may have gum disease include:
- Bleeding gums (noted with brushing or flossing)
- Sensitive teeth
- Receding gum line (teeth may appear longer)
- Red, swollen gums
- Chronic bad breath
- Loose teeth
The main goal of periodontal treatment is to control the inflammatory infection. This often begins with scaling and root planing, which is a thorough cleaning method used to physically remove bacteria and tartar that contribute to the periodontitis. Scaling refers to removing tartar from teeth above and below the gum line. Root planing smooths rough spots on tooth roots where bacteria and germs gather.
An antimicrobial mouth rinse is often prescribed for several weeks to assist with ideal healing. Dr. Ray requests the patient to return in two weeks for a gingivitis check, at which time the oral hygiene measures are evaluated. This gratuitous visit is her way of investing in the patient’s successful return to ideal gum health. Patients must adhere to a strict oral home-care regimen to protect their at-risk gums, and will likely need to schedule checkups every three to four months to minimize relapse and to closely monitor the gingival health.
Periodontitis is a serious disease that places more than your teeth at risk. Other risks associated with periodontal disease include:
- Decreased control of diabetes
- Increased risk of heart disease and stroke
- decreased birth weight
Schedule a checkup today if you are showing signs of periodontal disease.
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To learn more about all oral health topics, please visit the MouthHealthy website from the American Dental Association.