What is Periodontal Disease?
Periodontal disease (also referred to as “gum disease”) is a chronic infection of the gum tissue around the roots of the teeth, caused by dental plaque. It’s actually a set of diseases that affect the tissues surrounding and supporting the teeth. If left untreated, it involves progressive loss of the bone around the teeth which can lead to loosening and loss of teeth, as well as play a role in other health issues.
Contributing Factors for Periodontal Disease
Though a buildup of plaque is what begins the periodontal disease process, there are a number of factors which increase the risk, severity, and speed of development of the condition.
Smoking – We’ve all heard the reasons to quit smoking, but here is another: Smoking is one of the most significant risk factors for periodontal disease development. It can also decrease the chances for a successful treatment.
Poor Oral Hygiene – Seldomly visiting a Dentist for regular cleanings – or using improper brushing and flossing techniques – will increase plaque build-up under your gums.
Diabetes – If you’re a diabetic, you’re also at higher risk of developing infections, including periodontal disease. Carefully controlling your diabetes can be of significant value when it comes to periodontal disease.
Medications – There are hundreds of medication which reduce the flow of saliva to the mouth. The mouth is more vulnerable to infections such as periodontal disease when the protective flow of saliva is reduced.
Heredity – Due to family history, some people are just more prone to periodontal disease than others.
Hormonal Changes – Gums can become more sensitive, making it easier for gingivitis to develop.
Clenching or Grinding your Teeth – Clenching or grinding your teeth can put excess force on the supporting tissues of the teeth and speed up the rate at which these periodontal tissues are destroyed.
What Causes Periodontal Disease?
Simply put, it’s caused by a build-up of bacteria (plaque) on your teeth that remains in contact with your gums. The bacteria forms toxins which irritate the gums and break down the attaching tissue. This causes a reaction in the gums, which in its early stages is called “gingivitis”. One of the first noticeable signs is gums that bleed easily when touched or flossed.
The infection can then spread to the underlying bone. The longer that plaque remains on the teeth, the more harmful it becomes.
When gingivitis goes untreated, it can advance to “Periodontitis”. When this occurs, gums pull away from the teeth and form spaces (called “pockets”) which become infected. Your immune system kicks into gear to fight the bacteria as it spreads and grows beneath the gum line. The bacterial toxins and the body’s natural response to infection break down the bone and connective tissue which holds the teeth in place.
If untreated, the bones, gums, and tissue in the area are destroyed. This results in loose teeth which then need to be removed.
How Can I Tell if I Have Periodontal Disease?
Gum disease is silent…at first. You may not recognize the early symptoms unless you go to a dentist regularly. Plaque and tartar form under the gumline and this can lead to infection. The gums become irritated and pockets form between the teeth and gums. As the disease advances, it can lead to bone loss and eventual tooth loss.
Signs of Periodontal Disease
- Any of these symptoms can indicate periodontal disease:
- Gums that are red or swollen, or are tender to the touch and bleed easily.
- Receding gums – some people report that their teeth appear “longer” due to the recession of the surrounding tissue.
- Bad breath that won’t go away, no matter how often you brush or rinse.
- Teeth that have loosened on their own.
- Chewing has become painful in certain areas of the mouth.
- Teeth are sensitive to heat or cold
- Sores in your mouth
- A change in how your teeth fit together
What if I Just Live with Periodontal Disease?
Periodontal diseases, including gingivitis and periodontitis, are serious infections. Left untreated, they can lead to tooth loss and other health problems. The chronic bacterial infections affect the gums and bone supporting the teeth. They can affect one tooth or many. This is not something that will “go away”.
This problem will eventually worsen. You can potentially lose your teeth and develop other medical conditions as a side effect.
Research has shown the connection between periodontal diseases and other chronic inflammatory conditions such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and Alzheimer’s disease. Sometimes the only way to detect periodontal diseases is through a periodontal evaluation.
A periodontal evaluation may be especially important if you have any of the conditions listed above.