What Is Periodontal Disease?
Periodontal disease is known by a few names, including periodontitis and gum disease. Simply put, periodontal disease happens when a serious gum infection damages the soft tissue (gums) surrounding the teeth.
Periodontal disease is quite common. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately 47% of adults over the age of 30 have some form of gum disease. The odds of developing periodontitis increases with age. Approximately 70% of adults aged 65 or older have gum disease.
Men are more likely to experience periodontal disease than women. The disease is also more prevalent in people who smoke, lack a high school education, and live below the poverty line.
Stages of Periodontal Disease
The early stage of periodontal disease is called gingivitis. In this stage, the gums (which should be firm and pale pink in color) become swollen and red. They may also bleed, especially during brushing.
If left untreated, gingivitis can develop into periodontitis. In this more serious stage, the gums begin to pull away from the tooth, and bone is lost. This can lead to teeth becoming loose and falling out. If a tooth is lost, it must be replaced by a dental implant, which consists of an artificial root (made of titanium) that is placed in the jawbone. Once secured, the root becomes an anchor for a replacement crown or bridge.
Causes of Periodontal Disease
Periodontal disease happens when bacteria in the mouth react with sugars and starches and form plaque. Plaque is a sticky film that is made mostly of bacteria. Although brushing and flossing twice a day can help remove plaque, it quickly reappears.
The longer plaque remains on the teeth, the greater chance that it will harden and become tartar (also called calculus). Tartar can only be removed with a professional dental cleaning. Ideally, people should have their teeth professionally cleaned every six months.
A build-up of plaque can cause gingivitis—the earliest stage of gum disease. However, if left untreated, gingivitis will worsen and become periodontitis. It is at this point those pockets of plaque, tartar, and bacteria develop between the gums and teeth. These infections then cause a loss of tissue and bone—eventually leading to the loss of teeth.
What Increases the Chances of Contracting Periodontal Disease?
There are several things that can increase the chances of developing gum disease, including:
- Poor oral hygiene
- Smoking or chewing tobacco
- Hormonal changes (such as those caused by pregnancy and menopause)
- Poor nutrition (especially a lack of vitamin C)
- Certain medications that cause dry mouth
- Diseases such as diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, and Crohn’s disease
- Defective fillings
- Crooked teeth
- Certain illnesses that cause decreased immunity (such as HIV/AIDs and cancer treatment)
Although some of these risk factors cannot be avoided, quitting smoking, or chewing tobacco are one way to reduce the chances of developing gum disease.
Symptoms of Periodontal Disease
Signs of periodontal disease include:
- Swollen or puffy gums
- Gums that are red, dark red, or purple in color
- Tender gums
- Bleeding gums or blood appearing while brushing or flossing teeth
- Bad breath or a bad taste in the mouth that doesn’t go away
- Pus between teeth and gums
- Loose teeth
- Pain while chewing
- New spaces appearing between teeth
- Receding gums, which make teeth look longer
- Changes in how teeth fit together
Some of these symptoms may also indicate the need for a root canal, which removed infected nerves and diseased tissue from inside a tooth. Having a root canal may help to keep a bacterial infection from spreading to the gums.
Complications of Periodontal Disease
Although losing a tooth or needing a tooth extraction can be a direct complication of periodontal disease, the problem can spread beyond the mouth and lead to other complications. For example, when the bacteria enter the bloodstream through the gum tissue, it may lead to:
- Respiratory disease
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Coronary artery disease
- Problems controlling blood sugar in diabetic patients
Diagnosing Periodontal Disease
To diagnose gum disease, our dentists or dental hygienists may do the following.
- Examine gums for signs of inflammation and redness.
- Measure the pockets around the teeth with a small ruler. This painless procedure allows us to determine if these “pocket depths” are more than 1 to 3 millimeters.
- Ask questions to identify potential risk factors, such as smoking and diabetes.
- Take an X-ray to determine if there has been any loss of bone.
Preventing Periodontal Disease
As with most health issues, the best “cure” is prevention. With periodontal disease, following good oral hygiene habits and having twice-yearly professional cleanings is the best way to prevent gum disease.
Good oral hygiene habits include:
- Brushing twice a day for two minutes with a toothpaste approved by the American Dental Association (ADA).
- Flossing at least once a day, using dental floss or water flossers.
Other tips for promoting good gum health include:
- Eating a good diet (one rich in vegetables, nuts, fruit, fish, and legumes)
- Drinking lots of water
- Quitting smoking or tobacco use.
Treating Periodontal Disease
Fortunately, the dental professionals at Lakefront Family Dentistry provide several non-surgical options for treating periodontal disease. Dr. Mark Phillipe, DDS, and Dr. Derek Hauser, DDS, will examine your oral health and then one of our Registered Dental Hygienists will begin a professional teeth cleaning to a healthier, happier smile.
Regular removal of hard tartar by our dental hygienists twice a year will help gingivitis from developing. In addition, moderate cases can be treated with a deep cleaning technique called scaling and root planing, which removes accumulated plaque and tartar with special equipment. Once scaled off, the rough spots on the teeth are smoothed (planed) to remove the infectious bacteria.
Once treated, our dentist may prescribe antimicrobial mouthwash, prescription toothpaste, or other antibacterial medications to keep additional problems from developing. Patients may also want to consider our professional tooth whitening services.
Regardless of the treatment needed, our office is committed to providing comfortable and pain-free dental treatment. For patients who are nervous, our office has two dental therapy dogs, Stella, and Nilla, who can sit on a patient’s lap during treatment or just help to relax the patient. We also offer options for oral sedation and use Solea laser technology for fast and pain-free dental treatments.