Periodontal disease – also called gum disease, periodontitis and gingivitis – is an oral infection of the gums. Periodontal means “around the tooth,” meaning it refers to disease or infection in the gums, tissues and bones surrounding the tooth. Periodontal disease is a common issue that is often reversible in its early stages. If left untreated, however, periodontal disease can lead to serious issues such as loose teeth or tooth loss.
Periodontal disease is caused by poor oral hygiene, bad habits such as smoking, a family history of dental disease, hormonal changes, and certain illnesses and medications. Periodontal disease starts with the growth of bacteria in your mouth.
Bacteria can come from a buildup of plaque on your teeth. If allowed to accumulate, bacteria can cause gum inflammation. This is the earliest stage of periodontal disease, referred to as gingivitis. In this stage, no irreversible tissue damage has yet occurred, and the teeth are still firmly rooted in their sockets.
In its later stages, periodontal disease can cause the inner layer of the gum and bone to pull away from the teeth, forming pockets that can collect further bacteria below the gum line. These pockets can deepen, destroying more and more gum tissue and bone. Eventually, the connective tissues that hold the teeth in place will be destroyed, causing the teeth to loosen and potentially fall out. Gum disease is the main cause of tooth loss in adults.
It is best to catch periodontal disease in its earliest stages, when it is still reversible. Although the signs of early gum disease can be subtle, they may include:
In the advanced stages, periodontal disease can cause more noticeable symptoms, including:
Unfortunately, gum disease is often painless and can progress into the later stages with few obvious signs. This is why it is important to regularly see your family dentist, who can assess your gums and diagnose periodontal disease early on.
Periodontal disease is treatable at any stage; however, the adverse effects from the disease on the teeth and gums may or may not be reversible depending on how far the disease has progressed. The goal of gum disease treatment is to restore the health of the gums and encourage them to reattach to the teeth. This requires eliminating the source of the problem, reducing swelling and inflammation, and decreasing the depth of the pockets formed.
Your treatment options will depend on the stage of the disease, your overall health and other factors. Your dentist may recommend nonsurgical scaling and root planing, for example, to deep clean your teeth and control bacterial growth. If you have an advanced stage of periodontal disease, your dentist may recommend oral surgery instead to reduce the pockets or replace destroyed bone.
Gum disease is largely preventable. It is most often the result of poor dental hygiene. Brushing and flossing your teeth regularly can prevent inflammation and infection of the gums. If you fail to clean the plaque off of your teeth regularly, it can lead to a layer of bacteria on the tooth that inflames the gums and attacks your tooth enamel, eventually causing tooth decay. Regular professional cleanings at a dentist’s office twice per year can also help prevent periodontal disease. For more information about periodontal disease, schedule a checkup at Dental on Central.
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