What is Periodontal (Gum) Disease?
The term “periodontal” means “around the tooth.” Periodontal disease (sometimes known as periodontitis or gum disease) is a common inflammatory condition which affects the supporting soft tissues of the tooth. The bone around the tooth can also be affected in its most advanced stages.
Periodontal disease generally begins as gingivitis, which is an infection of the gum tissue by bacteria. Without proper brushing and flossing, plaque begins to accumulate around the teeth. A bacterial infection affects the gums when the toxins contained in plaque begin to irritate and inflame the gum tissues. Once this bacterial infection colonizes in the gum pockets between the teeth, it becomes much more difficult to remove and treat. Periodontal disease is a progressive condition that eventually leads to the destruction of the connective tissue and jawbone. If left untreated, it can lead to shifting teeth, loose teeth and eventually tooth loss.
Periodontal disease is the leading cause of tooth loss among adults in the developed world and should always be promptly treated.
Types of Periodontal Disease
When left untreated, gingivitis (mild gum inflammation) can spread below the gum line. When the gums become irritated by the toxins contained in plaque, a chronic inflammatory response causes the body to break down and destroy its own bone and soft tissue. There may be little or no symptoms as periodontal disease causes the teeth to separate from the infected gum tissue. Deepening pockets between the gums and teeth are generally indicative that soft tissue and bone is being destroyed by periodontal disease.
Here are some of the most common types of periodontal disease:
Chronic periodontitis – Inflammation within supporting tissues cause deep pockets and gum recession. It may appear the teeth are lengthening, but really, the gums (gingiva) are receding. This is the most common form of periodontal disease and is characterized by progressive loss of attachment, interspersed with periods of rapid progression.
Aggressive periodontitis – This form of gum disease occurs in an otherwise clinically healthy individual. It is characterized by rapid loss of gum attachment and chronic bone destruction.
Necrotizing periodontitis – This form of periodontal disease most often occurs in individuals suffering from systemic conditions such as HIV, immunosuppression and malnutrition. Necrosis (tissue death) occurs in the periodontal ligament, alveolar bone and gum tissues.
Periodontitis caused by systemic disease – This form of gum disease often begins at an early age. Medical conditions such as respiratory disease, diabetes and heart disease are common causes.
Treatment for Periodontal Disease
There are many nonsurgical and surgical treatments that can be done, depending upon the exact condition of the teeth, gums and bone. A complete periodontal exam of the mouth will be done before any treatment is performed or recommended.
Here are some of the more common treatments for periodontal disease:
Scaling and root planing – In order to preserve the health of the gum tissue, the bacteria and calculus (tartar) which initially caused the infection, must be removed. The gum pockets will be cleaned and treated with antibiotics as necessary to help alleviate the infection. A prescription mouthwash may be incorporated into daily cleaning routines.
Tissue regeneration – When the bone and gum tissues have been destroyed, regrowth can be achieved using grafting procedures. A membrane can be put into the affected areas to assist in the regeneration process.
Pocket elimination surgery – Pocket elimination surgery (sometimes known as flap surgery) is a surgical treatment which can be performed to reduce the pocket size between the teeth and gums. Surgery on the bone is another option, which reshapes the bone, to minimize the places where bacteria can grow.
Dental implants – When teeth have been lost due to periodontal disease, the aesthetics and functionality of the mouth can be restored by implanting prosthetic teeth into the jawbone. Tissue regeneration procedures may be required prior to the placement of a dental implant in order to strengthen the bone.
Ask your dentist if you have questions or concerns about periodontal disease, periodontal treatment, or dental implants.