Periodontal (gum) disease is an infection of the tissue that surrounds and supports the teeth. A leading cause of tooth loss, it is most often caused by a buildup of plaque on the teeth. Plaque is a sticky film of bacteria that can be brushed and flossed away with proper oral care. However, when left on the teeth, plaque produces toxins that attack below the gum line and in the crevices between the teeth and gums, causing the bond between teeth and gums to break down.
Causes of Periodontal Disease
Although plaque is the most common cause of periodontal disease, lifestyle or hereditary factors play a significant role in the health of the gums. Some of the risk factors for periodontal disease include:
- Tobacco smoking or chewing
- Systemic diseases such as diabetes
- Pregnancy or use of oral contraceptives
- Misaligned teeth
- Worn bridges or fillings
Medications such as steroids, anti-epilepsy drugs, cancer therapy drugs and calcium channel blockers may also increase the risk of developing periodontal disease.
Symptoms of Periodontal Disease
Signs of periodontal disease include gums that are red, swollen, tender and bleed easily. Additional symptoms may include:
- Gums that have pulled away from the teeth
- Persistent bad breath or bad taste
- Loose or separating teeth
- A change in the way the teeth fit together
- A change in the fit of partial dentures
Sometimes there are no warning signs, making proper dental hygiene and regular visits to the dentist very important.
Diagnosis of Periodontal Disease
Once symptoms are detected, a periodontist usually performs a series of tests in order to determine the severity of the condition and extent of the damage. The dentist may request the patient's full medical history and look for underlying conditions; take X-rays; and perform an examination with a dental probe to detect any periodontal pockets.
Treatment of Periodontal Disease
A patient is normally referred to a periodontist to treat periodontal disease. Periodontal disease is treated based on its severity and progression.
Scaling and Root Planing
Scaling and root planing are commonly performed to treat excess buildup of plaque and tartar. This is a deep-cleaning method that removes bacteria from below the gum line and the tooth root.
Antibiotics or antimicrobial medications may be used to fight infection, and reduce the size of the gum pockets that have occurred because of the periodontal disease.
If other methods of treatment are ineffective, flap surgery may be performed to lift away gum tissue so that it can be cleaned underneath. Gum or bone grafts may also be performed to help regenerate any bone or gum tissue that may have been damaged or lost due to periodontitis.
Treating the inflammation associated with periodontal disease, may not only help to manage the condition itself, but may also help with the management of other chronic, underlying inflammatory conditions.
Preventing Gum Disease
The risk of developing gum disease can be reduced by practicing proper oral hygiene. This includes thoroughly brushing the teeth at least twice a day, and flossing at least once a day. It is important for patients to practice proper brushing and flossing techniques to ensure that teeth are adequately cleaned.
Seeing a dentist for a professional cleaning on a regular basis is also essential to maintaining dental health. The dentist will recommend other prevention techniques to maintain oral health and prevent gum disease. Eating a balanced diet and avoiding smoking can also help maintain dental health.
- Medline Plus
- National Institutes of Health
- National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
- Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development
- U.S. Department of Health & Human Services
- U.S. National Library of Medicine