What is Periodontal Disease?
Periodontal disease is an infection in the gums and bone surrounding the teeth. If periodontal conditions are not treated, they can become severe and may lead to tooth loss. Periodontal diseases are often painless and you may not even be aware that you have a problem until your gums and the supporting bone become damaged.
What causes periodontal disease?
Perio disease is caused by plaque, a sticky film that is constantly forming on your teeth. Plaque contains bacteria that produce harmful toxins. If teeth are not cleaned well enough, the toxins can irritate the gums and cause them to become inflamed.
Once the gums are inflamed, they can pull away from the teeth and form spaces called pockets. These pockets trap plaque and bacteria that cannot be removed with brushing. The gums can become infected. If the infected pockets go untreated, the disease can get worse and damage the underlying bone.
Brushing and flossing twice per day can prevent periodontal disease from starting. if plaque remains on teeth it can harden into a rough surface called tarter or calculus. Tarter can only be removed when teeth are cleaned at the dental office.
Are you at risk?
Smoking or chewing tobacco are high contributors to periodontal disease. Perio treatment is much less successful in patients who continue to smoke.
Diseases, such as diabetes, blood cell disorders, HIV, infections, and AIDS that affect the whole body can lower resistance to infection. This can result in more severe periodontal problems and disease. Many medications also may contribute to periodontal health. Steroids, some anti-seizure medications, cancer therapy drugs, blood pressure drugs and birth control pills can affect the gums. Some medications can reduce the production of saliva, resulting in dry mouth. Dry mouth can irritate soft tissues.
Teenagers, pregnant women, and those taking birth control pills are subject to hormonal changes that may cause gum tissue to become sensitive to the toxins produced by bacteria in the mouth.
Warning signs of periodontal disease
- gums that bleed when you brush or floss
- red, swollen or tender gums
- gums that have pulled away from your teeth
- bad breath that doesn't go away
- pus between the teeth and gums
- loose or separate teeth
- a change in the way your teeth fit together when you bite down
- a change in the fit of dental prosthetics
How is it treated?
Periodontal treatments vary depending on the type and severity of the disease. If the disease is caught early and no damage has been caused to the supporting structures of the teeth, simple changes to home dental care can be made after a professional cleaning.
Even with changes to home care, patients may develop more severe periodontal disease that must be treated. Often, it is possible to treat periodontal disease without the need for surgery. Sometimes, a deep cleaning called scaling and root planing is all that is needed to begin the healing process. During this treatment, plaque and tarter are removed down to the bottom of each periodontal pocket. This treatment may be done over several visits, depending on your needs. The tooth root surfaces are then smoothed to allow gum tissue to heal and reattach to the tooth. Treatment like this has a huge benefit: you'll increase the chances of keeping your natural teeth.
Once scaling and root planing is complete, another appointment will be made about a month later for a perio evaluation. At this appointment, the dentist looks at the gums to see how well they have healed. If the disease continues to advance, further treatment, including surgery, may be necessary.
Periodontal disease will not go away by itself. If you smoke or chew tobacco products, it is important for you to quit. These habits can make periodontal problems worse.
Once periodontal treatment is complete, more frequent check-ups may be recommended. Regular dental visits and deep cleanings are important to keep periodontal disease under control.
Periodontal disease and your overall health
Tooth loss is not the only possible consequence of periodontal disease. There may be a link between perio disease and cardiovascular disease (heart disease and stroke). High stress may also be a contributing factor to perio disease.
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