Gum Disease (periodontal disease) is responsible for about 70 percent of adult tooth loss.
There are several types and stages of the disease, all of which start with an infection of the gums that can move into the bones and ligaments that support the teeth. In the beginning stages, it can only be detected by a dentist during regular checkups. If left untreated, gums and bone can become so seriously damaged that teeth can fall out or have to be removed.
Plaque, a sticky substance that forms in the mouth from food, saliva and bacteria gets inside the space between the gum tissue and the tooth. If this plaque is not removed, it can harden into a substance called calculus or tarter. Calculus and tarter are very difficult to remove and can only be removed by a licensed dentist or dental hygienist. Eventually, if the tarter and plaque are not removed, the bacteria within them will at away at the fibers that hold the gums to the teeth, creating what is called a deep pocket. As the bacteria spread, the pockets become deeper until the bacteria finally eat away at the bone that holds the teeth in place. This, in turn, will cause the tooth to become loose.
Once the bacteria in plaque have started to damage the gum tissues, a number of other factors can contribute to the severity of periodontal disease and the rate at which it progresses. Among them are:
- Food or chemical irritants impacted between teeth
- Smoking or chewing tobacco
- Badly aligned teeth
- Defective fillings clenching or grinding teeth
- Poor diet
- Pregnancy or oral contraceptives
- Systemic diseases such as AIDS or diabetes
- Certain medications
But these are only contributing factors. They don’t cause periodontal disease. Plaque does. While the early symptoms of periodontal disease can only be detected by a dentist, there are other indicators that start to appear as the disease progresses.
Symptoms, such as:
- Gums that bleed during brushing or flossing
- Teeth that have shifted or loosened
- Pus between teeth and gums
- Red, swollen gums
- Painful or tender gums
- Persistent bad breath
- Teeth that look longer because gums have receded
- Gums that have pulled away from the teeth
- Changes in the way teeth fit together when biting
- Changes in the way partial dentures fit
If you have any of these symptoms, you may have some form of periodontal disease and should consult your dentist. He or she will then measure the depth of the pockets between your teeth and gums and take X-rays to see if any of the supporting bone has been destroyed. If, after this evaluation, your dentist determines that you do have periodontal disease, there are a number of treatments he or she will suggest depending on the severity of your situation.
In order to treat gum disease, the bacteria, plaque and tarter must be removed from the pockets that surround the teeth. This process will require several visits to the office to perform a procedure called root planning and scaling. With root planning and scaling, your mouth is divided into 4 quadrants and 2 quadrants are cleaned at a time. During the cleaning, we will anesthetize the areas of the mouth that we are working on to keep you comfortable and then removed the bacteria, plaque and tarter located above and below the gum line. Once your entire mouth has been cleaned, we will have you return for an evaluation in one month, after that we recommend that you come in more frequently for your dental cleanings to make sure the disease progression has stabilized and keep your pockets free of bacteria. Keep in mind that once you have contracted periodontal disease, you will always have the disease. Careful daily hygiene and regular dental visits to clean your teeth are required to keep the bacteria from returning.