Gum DiseasePeriodontal disease occurs when bacterial plaque and tartar become trapped in pockets between the gums and teeth, and infection spreads to the bone and ligaments that support the teeth.

Plaque is a soft, sticky coating containing millions of bacteria. It can harden into tartar (also known as calcified plaque or calculus) – a build-up of minerals that results in yellow or brown staining. While plaque may be kept under control with a good routine of brushing and flossing, tartar can only be removed by a dental professional.

Periodontal disease – also referred to as periodontitis or simply gum disease – can destroy the structures that anchor your teeth in the jaw bone. Eventually, your teeth can become so loose they have to be extracted.

Besides oral issues, periodontal disease has been linked with several other medical conditions, including:

  • Stroke.
  • Herat disease.
  • Diabetes.
  • Lung infections.

What Causes Periodontal Disease?

Periodontal disease1 is caused by the body’s response to bacteria in plaque and tartar. In attacking these microbes, the immune system releases substances that cause inflammation of the gums, which may then bleed and/or swell.

The earliest stage of periodontal disease is known as gingivitis. Without treatment, it can progress to periodontal disease and then advanced periodontitis.

While harmful bacteria in the mouth are the main cause of periodontal disease, several other factors can increase the risk of gum disease or aggravate the condition once the infection has set in.

Some medications can cause dry mouth (xerostomia). Without an adequate supply of saliva, plaque is more likely to build up. Studies suggest 30 percent of the population may have a genetic susceptibility to periodontitis.

Smoking raises the likelihood of gum disease and is the chief cause of periodontal disease that resists treatment.

Overcrowded or misaligned teeth are more difficult to keep clean, which increases the risk of periodontal disease.

Certain medical conditions can also increase vulnerability to periodontal disease. These include:

  • Diabetes.
  • Leukemia.
  • Cardiovascular problems.
  • HIV.
  • Inflammatory bowel disease.
  • Rheumatoid arthritis.

Although grinding your teeth won’t cause periodontitis, it can make the problem worse, resulting in a more severe infection.

Symptoms of Periodontal Disease

Early stages of periodontal disease may be hardly noticeable or even symptom-free. However, you may experience bleeding gums when you clean your teeth or eat. You may also notice that instead of being pink and firm, your gums have become red and soft.

Another sign of periodontal disease is when your teeth appear to be longer. This happens because periodontitis can cause gum recession, which reveals more of your teeth.

Other symptoms of periodontal disease include:

  • Loose teeth.
  • Tooth sensitivity.
  • Ongoing bad breath (halitosis).
  • Pus between gums and teeth.
  • Mouth sores.
  • A change in your bite.

The American Dental Association2 (ADA) says regular dental exams are essential to detect the initial stages of periodontal disease, which will make treatment more effective. The AAP (American Academy of Periodontology) recommends an annual comprehensive periodontal evaluation (CPE) for all adults.

How is Periodontal Disease Diagnosed and Treated?

More than 50 percent of people in the U.S. over the age of 30 suffer from periodontitis, according to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention3 (CDC). Research, suggests a success rate of 85 percent in periodontal treatment when backed by good oral hygiene at home.

A major advance in periodontal care in recent years has been the understanding that damaged tissue can be regenerated, not just repaired.

The condition of your gums and jaw bone, alignment of your teeth, and depth of periodontal pockets (space between gums and teeth) help dentists to diagnose periodontitis. Once periodontal disease has been detected, you will need treatment to reverse the progress of the infection.

Initial treatment for gum disease typically involves deep cleaning by scaling and root planing. Scaling entails removing plaque and tartar with special instruments. Root planing smoothes rough spots on teeth to eliminate bacteria and help the gums to reattach.

If periodontitis has become severe, surgery may be needed. This allows for better access to remove diseased tissue and enables reshaping and repositioning of bones and gum and other tissues supporting the teeth.

Periodontal surgical procedures vary from case to case. The basic procedure entails separating gum tissue from the teeth and folding it back to allow direct access to the structures supporting the teeth. The infected tissue is removed from between the teeth and any holes in the bone. In cases of serious bone loss, regrowth can be promoted by a bone graft.

It’s normal to experience minor bleeding and some discomfort after periodontal surgery but these issues usually fade over a couple of days.

If you need periodontal surgery, bear in mind that the American Dental Association only recognizes periodontists and oral and maxillofacial (jaw and face) specialists as dental surgeons.

Patients who have lost teeth through gum disease often get them replaced with dental implants – small titanium screws that are surgically inserted into the jaw bone to form an artificial root to anchor synthetic teeth.

Importance of Early Treatment for Periodontal Disease

Most adults in the U.S. suffer from some form of periodontal disease, which can destroy teeth and gum and bone tissue. The infection can also spread to other areas of the body, including vital organs.

Early diagnosis and treatment of periodontal disease is key for a successful outcome without invasive surgical procedures. See your dentist at least twice a year for check-ups, which will include professional cleanings.

If periodontal disease is suspected, ask your dentist whether referral to a periodontal specialist would be beneficial.

Need to Change Your Lifestyle?

Many causes of gum disease can be countered by changing your lifestyle, and regular brushing and flossing is essential. An antibacterial mouthwash will reinforce your oral hygiene routine.

A poor diet that weakens your immune system can affect your ability to fight off the bacteria that cause periodontal disease, while obesity has been linked with gum issues. Studies show that smoking may be one of the most serious risk factors in developing periodontal disease.