What is periodontal (gum) disease?
Periodontal disease, or gum disease, can range from simple gum inflammation to serious disease that results in damage to the soft tissue and bone loss.
Gum disease is a threat to your oral health. Research shows possible health effects of periodontal diseases that go well beyond your mouth. Whether it is stopped, slowed, or gets worse depends a great deal on how well you care for your teeth and gums every day. The disease is never completely cured but it can be stopped.
What is a Periodontist?
A periodontist specializes in the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of periodontal conditions and the supporting structures of the teeth including all the periodontal tissues (gums, gingiva, and connective tissue), jaw, root and periodontal ligament. A periodontist also places dental implants in the case of missing teeth. After becoming a Dentist, this dental professional undergoes a minimum of at least three additional years of postdoctoral training in an ADA (American Dental Association) approved program and a requirement of board certification to practice as a certified specialist to treat diseases that affect the periodontium (specialized tissues that both surround and support the teeth).
What is a Diplomate?
A Diplomate is a periodontist who is certified by the American Board of Periodontology and has made significant achievements above and beyond the mandatory educational requirements of the specialty. This periodontist has been examined by a panel of internationally respected peers and awarded Diplomate status. By successfully completing the examination process, the specialist has demonstrated motivation for continued professional development, critical review of therapy results, and concentration on providing the finest innovative dental care.
What causes periodontal disease?
Our mouths are full of bacteria. These bacteria, along with mucus and other particles, continually form a sticky, colorless "plaque" on teeth. Brushing and flossing help get rid of plaque. Plaque that is not removed can harden and form bacteria-harboring "tartar" that lives under the gum line which brushing cannot clean. Only a professional cleaning by a dentist or dental hygienist can remove tartar.
The longer plaque and tartar are on teeth, the more harmful they become. The bacteria cause inflammation of the gums that is called "gingivitis." In gingivitis, the gums become red, swollen and can bleed easily. Gingivitis is a mild form of gum disease that can usually be reversed with daily brushing and flossing, and regular cleanings by a dentist or dental hygienist. This form of gum disease does not include any loss of bone and/or tissue that hold teeth in place.
When gingivitis is not treated, it can advance to "periodontitis" (which means "inflammation around the tooth.") In periodontitis, gums pull away from the teeth and form "pockets" that are infected. The body's immune system fights the bacteria as the plaque spreads and grows below the gum line. Bacterial toxins and the body's enzymes fighting the infection actually start to break down the bone and connective tissue that hold teeth in place. If not treated, the bones, gums, and connective tissue that support the teeth are destroyed. The teeth may eventually become loose and have to be removed.
Smoking - one of the most significant risk factors associated with the development of periodontitis. Additionally, smoking can lower the chances of success of some treatments.
Hormonal changes in women - changes can make gums more sensitive and make it easier for gingivitis to develop.
Diabetes - people with diabetes are at higher risk for developing infections, including periodontal disease.
Stress - research shows that stress can make it more difficult for our bodies to fight infection, including periodontal disease.
Medications - some drugs, such as antidepressants and some heart medicines, can affect oral health because they lessen the flow of saliva. (Saliva has a protective effect on teeth and gums.)
Illnesses - diseases like cancer or AIDS and their treatments can also affect the health of gums.
Genetic susceptibility - some people are more prone to severe periodontal disease than others.
Who is at risk of periodontal disease?
Millions of people have periodontal disease and don't know it. Adults past the age of 35 lose more teeth to gum disease than from cavities. Three out of four adults are affected at some time in their lives. Men are more likely to have periodontal disease 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.
What can I do to prevent gum disease?
Brush your teeth twice a day (with a fluoride toothpaste)
Floss every day
Visit the dentist routinely for a check-up and professional cleaning
Eat a well balanced diet
Don't use tobacco products
How is periodontal disease treated?
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. Additionally, modifying certain behaviors, such as quitting tobacco use, might also be suggested as a way to improve treatment outcome.