Gum disease (Periodontal Disease) is responsible for about 70 percent of adult tooth loss. It is characterized by swollen, inflamed gums surrounding the teeth. Plaque, a sticky substance that forms in the mouth from food, saliva and bacteria gets inside the space between the gum line and the tooth. If not removed, plaque hardens into a substance called calculus (or tarter) that is very difficult to remove. Eventually, the bacteria in the plaque and tarter eat away at the fibers that hold the gums to the teeth, creating deep pockets. As bacteria spread, the pockets become deeper until the bacteria finally eat away the bone that holds the tooth in place.
Among the causes for periodontal (gum) disease are genetic susceptibility, smoking, and other systemic illnesses like diabetes. Periodontal maintenance is a more involved and extensive dental cleaning, involving the removal of plaque and tartar from above and below the gum line. Most gum diseases are preventable with proper oral hygiene. However, what can start out as gingivitis (inflamed or bleeding gums) can quickly turn into periodontitis. In such cases, gums pull away from the tooth to create “pockets,” thereby exposing a dental root to infection. It can also lead to prolonged bad breath, loose teeth, painful chewing and other complications.
Diagnosing Gum Disease
Gum disease is diagnosed through a process that measures the depth of the pockets around each tooth. Pockets that are greater than 3 millimeters in depth are considered hazardous and will generally require treatment.
Early stages (gingivitis) can generally be corrected with regular six-month cleanings. More advanced stages usually require numbing and involves deep scaling and root-planing, followed by more frequent follow-up cleanings. This process of deep scaling and root-planing usually requires several visits to our office. Once the plaque bacteria have been removed, the pockets must be cleaned and maintained on a regular basis by a dentist or registered dental hygienist. Otherwise, the bacteria will return. More advanced cases may necessitate being referred to a Periodontist (a gum and bone specialist).