Periodontal (gum) disease is caused by a serious infection that can spread around the root of the teeth causing bone reduction. If left untreated, gum disease can result in tooth loss and the need for dental implants or dental bridges. A skilled periodontist will evaluate your condition and depending on its severity, recommend either non-surgical periodontal treatment or gum surgery.
What is Periodontal Disease?
Periodontal gum disease is caused by a bacterial infection that can irreversibly damage your teeth if left untreated. The word "periodontal" literally means "around the tooth." Because periodontal disease is caused by a degenerative bacterium that harms the gums and the supporting bone structure beneath them, it requires treatment in its earliest stages.
Types of Gum Disease
Gum disease goes through several stages. As the disease progresses in severity, the periodontal treatment options become more complex, costly, and time-intensive. It is important that at the first signs of gum disease symptoms you seek an experienced and professional periodontist.
The earliest and mildest form of periodontal disease is gingivitis. Gingivitis is characterized by swelling of the gums. Often, the gums will bleed during normal brushing and flossing. Gingivitis is reversible with professional periodontal treatment and consistent oral care at home.
There are several stages of the advanced form of gum disease known as periodontitis:
- Aggressive periodontitis is a form of gum disease found in patients who have otherwise good overall oral health. Common symptoms of aggressive periodontitis include a rapid increase in the size of gum pockets adjacent to the tooth, which lead to bone degradation.
- Chronic periodontitis is a form of gum disease that requires immediate periodontal treatment. This form of periodontitis causes inflammation within the supporting tissue of the teeth leading to progressive plaque attachment and rapid bone loss. Chronic periodontitis is the most common form of gum disease and although it is prevalent in adults, it can be take hold at any age. If left untreated, this form of gum disease will require gum surgery.
- Periodontitis of a systemic disease is a form of gum disease that often occurs at a young age and is associated with a preexisting disorder, such as diabetes.
- Necrotizing periodontal disease is one of the most dangerous forms of gum disease. This is characterized by necrosis (death of the supporting tissue) of gingival tissues, periodontal ligament, and alveolar bone. This is a very aggressive form of gum disease and often leaves gum surgery as your periodontist's only treatment option.
Causes of Gum Disease
The main cause of periodontal (gum) disease is bacterial plaque, a highly adhesive, clear film that is constantly forming on your teeth. The following causes have also been attributed to gingivitis and the more advanced forms of periodontitis:
- Smoking and tobacco use has been shown to be a major contributor to gum disease. It is no secret that smoking causes a host of health related issues, but recent studies have shown it to be one of the most significant risk factors in the development and advancement of periodontal diseases.
- Genetics predispose nearly 30 percent of the population to gum disease. Even with aggressive and consistent oral health care, these people may be six times more likely to develop periodontal disease than those who are not genetically susceptible to gum disease. It is important to visit an accredited periodontist to determine if you are at a higher risk for periodontal complications in order to begin an early intervention treatment routine.
- Pregnancy and the hormonal changes that accompany it can lead to an increased susceptibility to gum disease. Severe hormonal fluctuations are known to affect a number of tissues in your body, including your gums.
- Medications such as oral contraceptives, anti-depressants, and certain heart medicines can have a negative impact on your overall oral health. It is important you inform your periodontist of the medications you are taking and of any subsequent changes.
- Grinding your teeth places excess force on the supporting tissue of the teeth and can accelerate the rate at which gum disease destroys the sensitive support system of your mouth.
- Diabetes causes fluctuations and alterations in your blood sugar. The perpetual changes lead to a higher risk for developing severe periodontal disease that requires gum surgery.
- Poor nutrition leads to a multitude of health-related complications, including gum disease. Compromising your immune system with a poor diet will hinder your body's natural ability to fight off gum disease, and may require you to seek professional periodontal treatment.
Gum Disease Symptoms
It is imperative to keep a close watch on potential gum disease symptoms. Allowing your periodontist to make an early diagnosis can make the difference between non-surgical periodontal treatment and full-blown gum surgery. Symptoms to keep an eye on include:
- Mouth pain
- Gums that bleed when you brush or floss
- Increased space between the teeth
- Gums that feel swollen or tender
- Gums that appear to be receding, making your teeth appear longer
- Persistent bad breath
- The formation of pus between your teeth
- Changes in your bite and the way your teeth fit together
- Sores in your mouth
How is Periodontal (Gum) Disease Treated?
In the event you are diagnosed with gum disease, your periodontist may recommend non-surgical periodontal treatment. For advanced cases, gum surgery may be required. The biggest factor in the treatment options available to you will be how quickly your gum disease is detected and how rapidly it advances.
Early Stage Gingivitis Treatment
Gingivitis can usually be reversed with non-surgical treatment. Recently, the FDA approved Decapinol, the first prescription oral mouthwash that reduces gingivitis. Decapinol, when used twice daily, acts as a barrier that inhibits the bacteria’s ability to adhere to the tooth surface.
Other non-surgical periodontal treatments include scaling and root planing. This method of periodontal treatment thoroughly cleans the root surface to remove any plaque and tarter build-up. Following that, antimicrobials may be locally delivered to ward off any remaining bacteria.
Advanced Stage Periodontitis Treatment
Advanced gum disease often requires periodontal (gum) surgery. Gum surgery becomes the only viable periodontal treatment once the tissue around your teeth becomes too unhealthy to be repaired with non-surgical treatment. The four types of gum surgery most often recommended are:
- Pocket reduction procedures
- Regenerative procedures
- Crown lengthening
- Soft tissue grafts
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