Periodontal Disease

Periodontal diseases, also known as gum disease, are some of the most common infections in the United States. In fact, more than 75% of adults have some form of periodontal disease. Periodontal diseases are a major cause of tooth loss in adults. Periodontal disease may be a risk factor in fatal coronary heart disease, stroke, as well as low birth weight, difficulty controlling blood sugar levels in people with diabetes, and premature births in pregnant women even though direct cause and effect relationships have not been established. In the meantime, it's a fact that controlling periodontal disease can save your teeth -- a very good reason to take care of your teeth and gums.

Despite the number of people infected with these diseases, most believe that they dont have them. In a recent survey, eight out of ten Americans believe they did not have periodontal diseases, but seven out of ten exhibited one or more symptoms.

Periodontal diseases are painless until their advanced stages. If left untreated they irritate the gum, causing infection, periodontal diseases can result in bad breath; red, swollen, bleeding gums, and eventually tooth loss. 

Despite all these facts, periodontal diseases are some of the most preventable diseases. To prevent periodontal diseases you need to understand what causes them, learn and practice good oral health habits, and seek regular professional care.

What are periodontal diseases?

The word “periodontal” literary means “around the tooth”. Periodontal diseases are bacterial gum infections that destroy the attachment fibers and supporting bone that hold your teeth in your mouth. The main cause of this disease is bacterial plaque- a sticky colorless film that constantly forms on your teeth. Daily home care, including proper brushing and flossing, is a must to prevent plaque buildup.

If plaque is not removed, it can turn into a hard substance called calculus in less than two days. Calculus is so hard it can only be removed during a professional cleaning. If calculus develops below the gums onto the tooth root, it makes plaque removal more difficult, leaving you at increased risk for periodontal diseases.

Toxins (or poisons) produced by the bacteria in plaque irritate the gum, causing infection. These toxins also can destroy the supporting tissues around the teeth, including the bone. When this happens, gums separate from the teeth forming pockets that fill with even more plaque and more infection. As the diseases progress, these pockets deepen, more gum tissue and bone are destroyed, and the teeth eventually become loose. If periodontal diseases are not treated, the teeth may need to be removed.

Periodontal diseases can affect one tooth or many teeth. For example, your front teeth may not show signs of periodontal diseases while a tooth in the back of your mouth may become loose due to severe disease progression. One may lose virgin teeth (teeth that never had cavities or fillings) due to periodontal disease.

There are many forms of periodontal diseases. The most common ones include:

  • Gingivitis: The mildest form of the diseases, gingivitis causes the gums to become red, swell, and bleed easily. There is usually little or no discomfort at this stage. Gingivitis is reversible with professional treatment and good home oral care.
  • Mild Periodontitis: If gingivitis is left untreated, it can advance to periodontitis. In the mild stage, periodontal diseases begin to destroy the bone and tissue that support the teeth.
  • Moderate-Advanced Periodontitis: In the mid-stages, periodontal diseases can lead to more bone and tissue destruction. The most advanced form of these diseases includes extensive bone and tissue loss. Teeth often become loose and may have to be removed.

Illustrating the progression of periodontal diseases from gingivitis to advanced periodontitis.

What other factors might contribute to periodontal diseases?

Although plaque is the primary cause of periodontal diseases, other factors can affect the health of your gums, including:

  • Smoking/tobacco use: Tobacco users are more likely to get periodontal diseases and suffer from the more severe forms. Also, healing following therapy may take more time.
  • Pregnancy and puberty: Some hormonal changes can cause the gums to become red, tender and bleed easily. Any pre-existing periodontal diseases can become more severe.
  • Stress: Stress can make it more difficult for the body to fight off infection, including periodontal diseases.
  • Medications: Some drugs, such as oral contraceptives, antidepressants, anti-seizure and certain heart medicines, can affect oral health.  Always inform your dental care professional of the medicines you are taking and any changes in your health history.
  • Clenching or grinding your teeth: These habits can put excess force on the supporting tissues of the teeth and could speed up the rate at which these tissues are destroyed.
  • Diabetes: periodontal diseases can be more severe in uncontrolled diabetics. In addition, untreated periodontal disease can make it harder for uncontrolled diabetics to keep their diabetes under control.
  • Poor nutrition: A diet low in important nutrients also can make it harder for the body to fight off the infection.
  • Systemic diseases: Diseases that interfere with the bodys immune system may worsen the condition of the gums.
  • Genetic susceptibility.Some people are more prone to severe periodontal disease than others

Prevention of periodontal diseases:

  • Brush your teeth thoroughly at least twice a day for 4 minutes or longer.
  • Floss thoroughly every day.
  • Eat a balanced diet for good general health.
  • Schedule regular dental visits - at least twice annually.

You can help your doctor in the fight against periodontal diseases by learning the warning signs.

If you notice any of the following indications, see your doctor immediately:

  • Gums that bleed when brushing or flossing. Red, swollen or tender gums.
  • Gums that have pulled away from the teeth. Pus between the teeth and gums when the gums are pressed.
  • Persistent bad breath or bad taste. Permanent teeth that are loose or you notice new spaces.
  • Any change in the way your teeth fit together when you bite.
  • Any changes in the fit of prostheses such as partial dentures.