The word periodontal means “around the tooth”. Periodontal disease attacks the gums and the bone that support the teeth. Plaque is a sticky film of food debris, bacteria, and saliva. If plaque is not removed, it turns into calculus (tartar). When plaque and calculus are not removed, they begin to destroy the gums and bone. Periodontal disease is characterized by red, swollen, and bleeding gums.
Four out of five people have periodontal disease and don’t know it! Most people are not aware of it because the disease is usually painless in the early stages.
Not only is it the number one reason for tooth loss, research suggests that there may be a link between periodontal disease and other diseases such as, stroke, bacterial pneumonia, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and increased risk during pregnancy. Researchers are determining if inflammation and bacteria associated with periodontal disease affects these systemic diseases and conditions. Smoking also increases the risk of periodontal disease.
Good oral hygiene, a balanced diet, and regular dental visits can help reduce your risk of developing periodontal disease.
Signs and symptoms of periodontal disease
If you experience any of these signs and symptoms, it is important that you schedule an appointment with a periodontist without delay:
Bleeding while eating or brushing – Unexplained bleeding while consuming food or during the course of daily cleaning is one of the most common signs of periodontal infection.
Bad breath – Continued halitosis (bad breath) which persists even when a rigorous oral hygiene program is in place, can be indicative of periodontitis, gingivitis or the beginnings of an infection in the gum tissues.
Loose teeth and gum recession – Longer looking teeth can signal recession of the gums and bone loss due to periodontal disease. As this disease progresses and attacks the jawbone, (the anchor holding the teeth in place) the teeth may become loose or be lost altogether.
Gangrene in the tissues – Gangrene is hard to self diagnose but the general dentist and periodontist will check for its presence in the soft tissues, alveolar bone and periodontal ligament.
Related health conditions – Heart disease, diabetes, osteopenia and osteoporosis are highly correlated with periodontitis and periodontal infections. The bacteria infection can spread through the blood stream and affect other parts of the body.
Diagnosis and Treatment
Before initiating any dental treatment, the periodontist must extensively examine the gums, jawbone and general condition of the teeth. When gingivitis or periodontal disease is officially diagnosed, the periodontist has a number of surgical and non surgical options available to treat the underlying infection, halt the recession of the soft tissue, and restructure or replace teeth which may be missing.
Gingivitis/mild periodontal disease – When the gum pockets exceed 4mm in depth, the periodontist or hygienist may perform scaling and root planing to remove debris from the pockets and allow them to heal. Education and advice will be provided on an effective cleaning regime thereafter.
Moderate periodontal disease – If the gum pockets reach 4-6mm in length, a more extensive scaling and root planing cleaning might be required. This cleaning is usually performed under local anesthetic.
Advanced periodontal disease – Gum pockets in excess of 6-7mm are usually accompanied by bone loss and gum recession. Scaling and root planing will always be performed as the initial nonsurgical treatment. In addition to tose nonsurgical treatments, the periodontist may recommend surgical treatment to reduce pocket depth.
Tooth loss – Where one or several teeth are missing due to periodontal disease, dental implants are an effective option. If the bone is strong enough to provide a suitable anchor for the prosthetic tooth, the implant can be placed. However, if the bone is severely eroded, bone grafts may be performed by the periodontist to provide a suitable anchor for the new tooth/teeth.
Ask your periodontist if you have questions about periodontal disease, periodontal treatment or dental implants.