Periodontitis/Gingivitis (Gum Disease)
What is Periodontitis?
Periodontitis, also called periodontal disease, is an infection that affects your gums, damaging the soft tissue and eventually destroying the bone that supports your teeth. Periodontitis can do more than ruin your smile; left untreated it can increase your risk of heart attack, stroke, and other serious health problems.
Although common, periodontitis is largely preventable. Usually the result of poor oral hygiene, there are simple steps you can take to prevent this disease. Getting regular dental checkups, brushing at least twice daily, and regular flossing can greatly reduce your risk for developing periodontitis. However, many people suffer from periodontal disease and don’t realize it until their teeth begin to loosen. Healthy gums are pale pink and firm. If your gums appear dusky red or begin to bleed easily, contact us for an appointment.
How Periodontal Disease Develops
Plaque is a sticky film that forms on your teeth when sugars and starches contained in food interact with the bacteria normally present in your mouth. Most experts agree that periodontitis begins with plaque, which can be removed by brushing and flossing. However, plaque re-forms very quickly, usually within 24 hours. Any plaque remaining on your teeth for more than two or three days can harden under the gumline and turn into tartar (calculus).
The formation of tartar may be accelerated by the mineral content of your saliva. Tartar not only makes plaque more difficult to remove, but acts as a reservoir for bacteria. Only a professional dental cleaning can remove tartar, as it is impervious to brushing and flossing. The longer the plaque and tartar remain on your teeth, the more damage is caused.
Initially, inflammation and irritation is limited to the gingiva, the portion of your gum that surrounds the base of your teeth. This is referred to as gingivitis, the mildest form of periodontal disease. Gingivitis affects only the gums, not the underlying structures that support your teeth.
Ongoing inflammation will eventually promote the development of pockets between your gums and your teeth. These pockets will fill with plaque, tartar, and bacteria, worsening as the bacteria deposit endotoxin, the byproduct of their own metabolism. These toxins cause your gums to become red, inflamed, to bleed easily.
With time, these bacterial reservoirs deepen, advancing the infection beneath your gums, causing the deterioration of tissue and bone including the periodontal ligament, cementum, and the alveolar bone. This structural involvement is known as periodontitis and when too much of the underlying structure is destroyed your teeth will become loose, significantly increasing your risk of tooth loss.
Types of Periodontitis and Risk Factors
There are different types and classes of periodontitis, depending on the severity. Chronic periodontitis is the most common overall category, affecting mostly adults. Aggressive periodontitis is less common, but more difficult to treat. It usually begins in childhood or early adulthood, affecting a small number of people.
Risk factors for developing periodontal disease include:
- Genetic predisposition (heredity)
- Poor oral health habits
- Tobacco use
- Older age
- Poor nutrition
- Compromised immunity (leukemia, HIV/AIDS, chemotherapy)
- Substance abuse
- Certain medications
- Hormonal changes
- Poor-fitting dental restorations
- Poor bite alignment
Regular Dental and Periodontal Care Reduces Risk
Despite the fact that 80% of Americans will be afflicted with some form of periodontal disease by age 45, most patients have no idea that they have it. Because it is often painless and without noticeable symptoms, many people are unaware of the damage being done until they notice a fetid oral odor or their teeth start to feel uncomfortable while chewing.
Proper periodontal care and maintenance are crucial to retaining your teeth and keeping your gums healthy. Unhealthy gums can become red, swollen, and recede. Eventually the supporting bone will be destroyed, leading to your teeth shifting and possible tooth loss. Preserving gum health will help you retain your smile and your ability to chew and speak properly. If you notice any of the signs and symptoms listed below, call us to book an appointment right away.
Signs and symptoms of periodontitis can include:
- Gums that feel tender when touched
- Gums that have a bright red or purple appearance
- Swollen gums
- Gums that recede (pull away from your teeth), making your teeth appear longer than normal
- Pus between your teeth and gums
- New spaces developing between your teeth
- Bad taste in your mouth
- Bad breath
- Loose teeth
- A change in the way your teeth fit together when you bite