Periodontal disease is commonly called gum disease. It is the result of infections and inflammation of the gums and bone that surround and support the teeth. In its early form, it is called gingivitis, when the gums become swollen and red and may possibly bleed. As it progresses, it can become periodontitis, when the gums pull away from the tooth. Teeth may become loose and fall out and bone loss may occur.
Bacteria in the mouth can infect the tissue surrounding the teeth, which can lead to periodontal disease. When bacteria stay on the teeth long enough, a colorless film called "plaque" will form. If not cleaned away, plaque eventually hardens and becomes tartar. Tartar build-up can spread below the gum line, making teeth harder to clean. Brushing and flossing help get rid of plaque. Only a professional cleaning by a dentist or dental hygienist can remove tartar.
There are several risk factors that can lead to periodontal disease, including:
Most people don't show signs of gum disease until they are in their 30 or 40s and men are more likely to develop it than women. Although teenagers rarely develop periodontitis, they can develop gingivitis, the milder form of gum disease. Most commonly, gum disease develops when plaque is allowed to build up along and under the gum line.
Here are some symptoms that may indicate gum disease:
The best thing to do is to avoid the possibility of periodontal disease as much as possible.
If you experience any of the gum disease symptoms, mention it to your dental professional. At your dental visit the dentist or hygienist should:
The dentist or hygienist may also:
The main goal of treatment is to control the infection. The number and types of treatment will vary, depending on the extent of the gum disease. Any type of treatment requires that the patient keep up good daily care at home. The dentist may also suggest changing certain behaviors, such as quitting smoking, as a way to improve treatment outcome.
Other treatments include deep cleaning, called scaling and root planning. The dentist, periodontist, or dental hygienist removes the plaque through a deep-cleaning method called scaling and root planing. Scaling means scraping off the tartar from above and below the gum line. Root planing gets rid of rough spots on the tooth root where the germs gather, and helps remove bacteria that contribute to the disease.
Medications may be used with treatment that includes scaling and root planning, but they cannot always take the place of surgery. Depending on how far the disease has progressed, the dentist or periodontist may still suggest surgical treatment.
Flap Surgery: Surgery might be necessary if inflammation and deep pockets remain following treatment with deep cleaning and medications. A dentist or periodontist may perform flap surgery to remove tartar deposits in deep pockets or to reduce the periodontal pocket and make it easier for the patient, dentist, and hygienist to keep the area clean. This common surgery involves lifting back the gums and removing the tartar. The gums are then sutured back in place so that the tissue fits snugly around the tooth again. After surgery the gums will heal and fit more tightly around the tooth. This sometimes results in the teeth appearing longer.
Bone and Tissue Grafts: In addition to flap surgery, your periodontist or dentist may suggest procedures to help regenerate any bone or gum tissue lost to periodontitis. Bone grafting, in which natural or synthetic bone is placed in the area of bone loss, can help promote bone growth.
Gum disease can possibly have an effect on the rest of your body as well. People with gum disease may be more likely to develop heart disease or have difficulty controlling blood sugar. Some studies showed women with gum disease were more likely than those with healthy gums to deliver preterm, low birth weight babies.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research