Periodontal disease is one of the more common diseases among adults today. Also known as gum disease, the severity of this can range from inflammation to a serious disease that may result in damage to the bones that support your teeth. If left untreated, it can ultimately lead to a loss of normal teeth.
The good news is that for most people, periodontitis is mostly preventable. The primary cause for this condition is having poor oral hygiene which can occur at any age. Brushing two times a day, daily flossing, and an annual or biannual dental checkup are the best preventative measures that a person can take.
Risk Factors for Periodontitis
Although the primary risk for developing gum disease is poor oral hygiene, there are a few conditions or lifestyle factors that may increase a person’s chances of developing this condition. Smoking is one of the most significant factors that put a person at higher risk. However, stopping smoking can help with successful treatment. Hormonal changes in girls and women may increase their chances. Other chronic illnesses such as diabetes, AIDS, and cancer may be risk factors. Finally, some medications can reduce the amount of saliva that your mouth produces. With a lack of saliva, there is an increased risk of gum disease developing.
People don’t develop periodontitis immediately but this condition is mostly progressive and will happen over time. The development starts with plaque, the bacteria that form on our teeth. Everyone has some plaque but normal brushing and flossing remove much of it. However, daily oral hygiene is required as plaque will reoccur quickly after brushing.
If not brushing and flossing regularly, plaque can harden under the gumline and form a harder substance known as tartar. Tartar is full of bacteria and more challenging to remove. Brushing and flossing won’t remove it, requiring professional dental cleaning. Over time, plaque left untreated can cause gingivitis which is a mild form of gum disease. This will show up as irritation and irritation of the gums around the base of the teeth.
Finally, untreated plaque and tartar buildup will lead to periodontitis. This condition occurs when pockets develop between the gums and the teeth. These gaps fill with plaque, tartar, and bacteria. Over time, these areas can become deeper and gather more bacteria. When not treated, the deep infections present will lead to a loss of tissue and bone. Over time, a person may start to lose their teeth. This untreated infection also can create a strain on the normal immune system.
Symptoms of Periodontitis
A person who has healthy gums will notice that they are firm and pale pink. They should be snug around the teeth and non-tender. However, unhealthy gums can have a variety of symptoms including the following:
- Gums that are swollen or tender red or purple in appearance
- gums that bleed easily
- Bad breath
- Loose teeth or the loss of a tooth as an adult
- Pain with chewing
- Receding gums that make teeth look longer than normal
- A change in your smile or teeth that appear to be shifting over time
In order to determine whether this condition is present, it’s best to see a dentist for a full evaluation. A dentist will review a person’s medical history to determine if there are any risk factors such as smoking or chronic conditions that may predispose a person to develop periodontitis.
The dentist will also perform an oral exam to look for any plaque and tartar deposits as well as check your mouth to determine if bleeding is present. The dentist will also measure the depth of the groove between the gums and the teeth. In a healthy mouth, the pocket depth will range between 1-3 millimetres. Any pockets that are deeper than 4 mm may be an indicator of periodontitis. Any pockets that are deeper than 5 mm cannot be cleaned well and are a serious sign.
The dentist will also likely perform dental X-rays to determine if there has been any damage to the bones. This may occur as a part of a normal dental evaluation or if deep pocket depths are noted. If the dentist’s evaluation notes that periodontitis is present, then a dentist will assign a stage and grade to the condition. This will be individualized based on your exam.
Treatment for Periodontal Disease
The treatment of this condition is designed to clean these pockets that have developed and to prevent any damage to the surrounding areas. In addition to professionally cleaning around the gums, people should also develop or maintain their own daily oral care routine. If this condition has likely been caused by medications, chronic conditions, or the treatment of chronic conditions, your dentist may recommend lifestyle or other modifications to improve oral health. For anyone who is currently smoking, stopping smoking is highly recommended.
For less severe periodontitis, there are a few treatment procedures available:
- Scaling – removing tartar and bacteria from beneath the gums with a laser or ultrasonic device
- Root planing – removes the root surfaces and removes bacterial byproducts
- Antibiotics – controlling the bacterial infection
For more advanced periodontitis, surgical procedures may be recommended such as the following:
- Flap or pocket reduction surgery – cutting into the gum area for scaling and re-planing before replacing the tissue
- Soft tissue grafts – removing tissue from a donor source, usually the palate, and attaching it to the affected area
- Bone grafting – replacing any bone losses with your own or synthetic bone fragments to help hold teeth in place
- Guided tissue regeneration – using biocompatible fabric to allow the bone to regrow
- Tissue-stimulating proteins – applying protein-containing gel to stimulate the growth of bone and tissue
Effective Treatment Options
In addition, to any of the prescribed treatments, maintaining good oral care before, during, and after treatment is the cornerstone. For anyone who has concerns about this or other gum diseases, make an appointment with a dentist for an evaluation. Additionally, seeing a dentist regularly will also help prevent any further complications or problems. Good oral health starts and ends with you.