Periodontitis is inflammation of the gums and supporting structures of the teeth. It is one of the most common human diseases.
Periodontal Diseases are caused by certain bacteria (known as periodontal bacteria) and by the local inflammation triggered by those bacteria. Although these periodontal bacteria are naturally present in the mouth, they are only harmful when the conditions are right for them to increase dramatically in numbers. This happens when a layer of bacteria and food debris, known as plaque, builds up and is left undisturbed on the teeth, commonly in hard-to-reach areas such as between the teeth.
The more dangerous bacteria are able to thrive and multiply, producing some harmful by-products which stimulate the body’s defensive inflammatory response in the gums. As the disease progresses, chronic inflammation causes the bone of the jaw to be destroyed and the teeth to be lost. In many people, this is a gradual process that takes place over many years and, if detected and treated, can be halted. However, some young adults have a very active form of the disease which causes early loosening and loss of the teeth.
Causes of Periodontal Diseases
Our mouths are full of bacteria. These bacteria, along with mucus and other particles, constantly form a sticky, colorless “plaque” on teeth. Brushing and flossing help get rid of plaque. Plaque that is not removed can harden and form “tartar” that brushing doesn’t clean. Only a professional cleaning by a dentist or dental hygienist can remove tartar.
There are a number of risk factors for gum disease, but smoking is the most significant. Smoking also can make treatment for gum disease less successful. Other risk factors include diabetes; hormonal changes in girls and women; diabetes; medications that lessen the flow of saliva; certain illnesses, such as AIDS, and their medications; and genetic susceptibility.
Symptoms of Periodontal Diseases
Symptoms of gum disease include:
- Bad breath that won’t go away
- Red or swollen gums
- Tender or bleeding gums
- Painful chewing
- Loose teeth
- Sensitive teeth
- Receding gums or longer appearing teeth
Diagnosis of Periodontal Diseases
At a dental visit, a dentist or dental hygienist will:
- Examine your gums and note any signs of inflammation.
- Use a tiny ruler called a “probe” to check for and measure any pockets around the teeth. In a healthy mouth, the depth of these pockets is usually between 1 and 3 millimeters. This test for pocket depth is usually painless.
- Ask about your medical history to identify conditions or risk factors (such as smoking or diabetes) that may contribute to gum disease.
The dental professional may also:
- Take an x-ray to see whether there is any bone loss.
- Refer you to a periodontist. Periodontists are experts in the diagnosis and treatment of gum disease and may provide you with treatment options that are not offered by your dentist.
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 your treatment results.
You can keep your gums and teeth healthy by:
- Brushing your teeth twice a day with a fluoride toothpaste.
- Flossing regularly to remove plaque from between teeth. Or, you can use a device such as a special brush, wooden or plastic pick, or a “water flosser” recommended by a dental professional.
- Visiting the dentist routinely for a check-up and professional cleaning.
- Quitting smoking.
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