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What is Periodontal (Gum) Disease?

The term “periodontal” means “around the tooth.”  Periodontal disease (also known as periodontitis and gum disease) is a common inflammatory condition that affects the supporting and surrounding soft tissues of the tooth, eventually affecting the jawbone itself in the disease’s most advanced stages.

Periodontal disease is most often preceded by gingivitis which is a bacterial infection of the gum tissue.  A bacterial infection affects the gums when the toxins contained in plaque begin to irritate and inflame the gum tissues.  Once this bacterial infection colonizes in the gum pockets between the teeth, it becomes much more difficult to remove and treat.  Periodontal disease is a progressive condition that eventually leads to the destruction of the connective tissue and jawbone.  If left untreated, it can cause shifting teeth, loose teeth, and eventually tooth loss. 

Periodontal disease is the leading cause of tooth loss among adults in the developed world and should always be promptly treated.

Types of Periodontal Disease

When left untreated, gingivitis (mild gum inflammation) can spread to below the gum line.  When the gums become irritated by the toxins contained in plaque, a chronic inflammatory response causes the body to break down and destroy its own bone and soft tissue.  There may be little or no symptoms as periodontal disease causes the teeth to separate from the infected gum tissue.  Deepening pockets between the gums and teeth are generally indicative that soft tissue and bone is being destroyed by periodontal disease.

Treatment for Periodontal Disease

There are many surgical and nonsurgical treatments the periodontist may choose to perform, depending upon the exact condition of the teeth, gums and jawbone.  A complete periodontal exam of the mouth will be done before any treatment is performed or recommended.

Here are some of the more common treatments for periodontal disease:

  • Scaling and root planing – In order to preserve the health of the gum tissue, the bacteria and calculus (tartar) which initially caused the infection, must be removed.  The gum pockets will be cleaned and treated with antibiotics as necessary to help alleviate the infection.  A prescription mouthwash may be incorporated into daily cleaning routines.
  • Tissue regeneration – When the bone and gum tissues have been destroyed, regrowth can be actively encouraged using grafting procedures.  A membrane may be inserted into the affected areas to assist in the regeneration process.
  • Pocket elimination surgery – Pocket elimination surgery (also known as flap surgery) is a surgical treatment which can be performed to reduce the pocket size between the teeth and gums.  Surgery on the jawbone is another option which serves to eliminate indentations in the bone which foster the colonization of bacteria.
  • Maintenance - It only takes twenty four hours for plaque that is not removed from your teeth to turn into calculus (tartar)!  Daily home cleaning helps control plaque and tartar formation, but those hard to reach areas will always need special attention.  Once your periodontal treatment has been completed, your dentist and dental hygienist will recommend that you have regular maintenance cleanings (periodontal cleanings), usually four times a year.  At these cleaning appointments, the pocket depths will be carefully checked to ensure that they are healthy.  Plaque and calculus that is difficult for you to remove on a daily basis will be removed from above and below the gum line.

 

Please contact our office if you have questions or concerns about periodontal disease or periodontal treatment.

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