What is Periodontal Disease?
Periodontal Medicine Surgical Specialists offer periodontal treatments designed to halt the progression of gum disease in mild and even advances cases. Our goals are to treat gingival infection, save teeth, and restore the natural function and look of your smile. It’s important to be fully informed when it comes to the affects of gum disease and the three primary stages.
Gum disease (also called periodontal disease or periodontitis) is an infection of the gums and/or bone that surrounds the tooth and progressively destroys those tissues if left untreated. Generally the disease is painless, and most patients are not aware they have a problem until examined by a dentist. To best explain what gum disease is, it’s helpful to have a basic understanding of a healthy tooth and periodontium.
With a healthy tooth, the root is set in the jawbone with a strong ligament, which keeps the tooth tightly attached to the bone. Gum covers the bone, and like skin, protects it from bacteria that are constantly present in the mouth. The gum connects to the neck of the tooth with a band of fibers, which insert just above the bone into the root. In a healthy situation, the gum edge is higher than the fiber attachment, forming a space (the gingival sulcus) around the tooth, similar to a turtleneck sweater. This sulcus should be 2-3 millimeters in depth.
If bacteria (plaque) are allowed to survive on and colonize the tooth, it causes a chronic inflammatory state. As this infection persists, the body tries to wall it off and the gum tissue may move farther down the tooth (closer to the bone) to avoid the infection. At this time, the sulcus may be deeper than in health (4-5 millimeters in depth) and may bleed when the patient brushes and flosses. This is called “gingivitis” and is usually completely reversible with treatment. Gingivitis is associated with inflammation but irreversible bone loss has not yet occurred.
As time goes on, the inflammation and the gum tissue get closer and closer to the bone and the body responds by dissolving (resorbing) the bone around the tooth. This can result in a much deeper sulcus, called a “pocket” (which is usually over 5 millimeters) that may continue to bleed when the patient brushes and flosses. This bone loss is often not reversible and can lead to loose teeth and tooth loss if not treated. This is called “periodontitis.” It is distinguished from gingivitis by the presence of bone loss.
Periodontal disease is dangerous in that it is often painless and symptomless. 80% of Americans will be afflicted with periodontal disease by age 45, and 4 out of 5 patients with the disease are unaware they have it. It is important to maintain proper home oral care and regular dentist visits to reduce the risk of obtaining this disease.
The Mouth-Body Connection of Periodontal Disease
Research has recently proven what dentists have long suspected: that there is a strong connection between periodontal disease and other chronic conditions such as diabetes, heart disease and osteoporosis.
Periodontal disease is characterized by inflammation of the gum tissue, presence of disease-causing bacteria, and infection below the gum line. Infections and bacteria in the mouth can spread throughout the body and lead to a host of problematic health issues. Therefore, maintaining excellent oral hygiene and reducing the progression of periodontal disease through treatment will have benefits beyond preventing gum disease and bone loss. It can also save you from the chance of developing another serious condition.
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Preventing Gum Disease
Adults over the age of 35 lose more teeth to gum diseases than from cavities. At least three out of four adults are affected at some time in their life. The best way to prevent cavities and periodontal diseases is by daily thorough tooth brushing and flossing techniques and regular professional examinations and cleanings. Unfortunately, even with the most diligent home dental care, people can still develop some form of periodontal disease. Once this disease starts, professional intervention is necessary to prevent its progress.
Other important factors that can negatively affect the health of your gums include: tobacco usage, stress, clenching and grinding teeth, some medications, and poor nutrition.
You can do a lot yourself to prevent and reverse periodontal disease through proper oral hygiene. Brush your teeth twice a day. Once a day, also clean between the teeth using interdental brushes, dental sticks, Mini Flosser or dental floss. A special toothbrush for cleaning hard-to-reach areas may also be needed.
When to see a periodontist
One issue with gum disease is that patients may not experience symptoms until the disease is somewhat advanced. Periodontal disease is usually painless, and patients are unlikely to notice the accumulation of calculus except perhaps on the visible tooth surfaces. Gum disease can only be diagnosed by a trained oral health professional, who will need to look at more than just any symptoms visible to the naked eye. Still, you may be able to notice some symptoms of gum disease:
- Gums which are red, swollen or tender
- Teeth which are loose or that appear to be getting longer (due to gum recession)
- Bleeding while brushing or flossing
- Sores or pus in your mouth
- Routine bad breath
- Changes in the way teeth or dentures fit together
We are accepting new patients. If you think you may be at risk for gum disease, feel free to contact us at (847) 698-1180 or (630) 627-3930 for a consultation.