What is Periodontal Disease?

Periodontal disease (from peri “around” and odont “tooth”), which is also called gum disease , is a continuous and progressive inflammation of the gums caused by bacterial infection in the gum and bone tissue surrounding your teeth. As the bacterial infection and inflammation increase, the gums detach from the teeth and the surrounding bone is eaten away. If the infection is allowed to progress for too long, your teeth become loose and can eventually be lost.

Periodontal disease is a “quiet” disease that often produces no pain or discomfort until it is severe. It is the leading cause of tooth loss in adults.

How Periodontal Disease progresses

When the gums and bone around your teeth are healthy, your teeth are stably in position and the gums are firmly attached around your teeth. They are pink in color, firm, and do not bleed easily.

Bacteria accumulate on your teeth and below your gum line from food and other sources. If these bacteria are not adequately removed with brushing and flossing, they form a sticky biofilm on your teeth known as plaque. As the plaque builds up, large deposits start to harden into what is called calculus, or tartar.

The bacteria in the plaque and tartar give off toxins that start inflammation that results in the detachment of the gums from the teeth. The surrounding bone starts to be eaten away as well. As the bacterial infection progresses in size and severity, the gum detachment and bone loss becomes more advanced and the teeth eventually become loose and can be lost.

Gingivitis and Periodontitis

The first level of periodontal disease is known as gingivitis. Gingivitis is a bacterial infection of the gums only (not the bone) and is characterized by inflamed, swollen and red gums that may bleed when you brush or floss. The gums have not started to detach at this stage. This level of infection can usually be eliminated with thorough professional cleaning and effective home oral care.

The second level of periodontal disease, called periodontitis, is more severe and progresses in stages. At this point the bacterial deposits have not only continued to accumulate, they have started to cause the gums to detach from the teeth and the surrounding bone to be progressively eaten away.

As the gums detach, pockets of space form between the gums and the teeth, allowing more bacteria to be trapped and cause further inflammation. The gum pockets will become progressively deeper as the infection progresses.

Periodontitis accelerates as it grows

As gum pockets become deeper, the types of bacteria that populate these pockets change and are more destructive the deeper the pockets become. This causes the deterioration and bone loss to accelerate in speed and intensity as periodontitis advances

Stages of Periodontitis

Periodontitis progresses from mild to moderate to advanced. Dr. Young assesses the level of periodontal disease by gently measuring the gum pocket depths using a small probe and by examining the amount of bone loss in X-ray images.

Podcasts About Periodontal Disease

Stages of Periodontitis

Mild periodontitis

The gum pocket depth is usually about 4mm. The gums have started to detach from the tooth and there is some bone loss.

Moderate periodontitis

The gum pocket depth has reached 5mm and the gum detachment and bone loss are more severe.

Advanced periodontitis

The gum pockets are 6mm and deeper. Now the gum detachment and bone loss are extensive and the type of bacteria colonizing the pocket are shifting to more aggressive and medically risky bacteria.When gum detachment and bone loss have become this severe, the tooth is in danger of being lost. Teeth often become loose at this point, which may be the first clue someone may have that there is something wrong.

Symptoms of Periodontal Disease

The following are symptoms of periodontal disease. If you have any of these, you should call our office so Dr. Young can give you a comprehensive exam.

  • Red or swollen gums
  • Tender or bleeding gums
  • Painful chewing
  • Bad breath that will not go away
  • Gums that have receded or teeth that appear longer than normal
  • An abscess coming from below your gum line
  • Teeth that have shifted position
  • Teeth that are loose

Contributing causes to Periodontal Disease

Although the bacterial infection and its resultant irritation of the gums are the most immediate visible cause of periodontal disease, there are numerous contributing factors that cause the infection to take hold much faster and progress at greater speed:

  • Smoking – Smoking and other tobacco products have been found to restrict blood flow to the gums and inhibit the tissues’ ability to fight off disease or heal. Studies have also revealed that the bacterial strains that most aggressively damage your gums are found in smokers’ mouths.
  • Poor diet – Lack of adequate nutrition can cause chronic health deficiencies in your oral tissues which make you more susceptible to periodontal disease.
  • Poor oral hygiene – Inadequate brushing and flossing fails to remove enough bacteria, allowing them to accumulate below the gumline and eventually cause gum detachment and progressive bone loss.
  • Inadequate frequency of professional dental cleanings – Even the best home oral care can miss some of the bacteria that accumulate below the gum line, and an adequate schedule of thorough dental cleanings is needed to ensure any accumulation is completely removed and the disease is kept at bay or prevented.
  • Health problems in other areas – Autoimmune disorders, respiratory disease, diabetes and heart disease can contribute to periodontal disease by lowering the body’s resistance to infections.
  • Treatments for other health problems – Certain treatments for diseases weaken the gums or cause excess gum tissue to grow which makes the gums harder to clean. Additionally, certain medications reduce the production and flow of saliva. Saliva has a protective effect on the mouth, and inadequate saliva makes the gums more susceptible to periodontal disease.
  • Hormonal changes – Hormonal changes can cause the gums to become more sensitive, thus increasing susceptibility to periodontal disease.
  • Genetic predisposition – An estimated 50% of the population is predisposed to periodontal disease, but proper home oral care and professional cleanings can keep the disease at bay or prevent it from occurring.
  • Mistakes in earlier dental treatment – Poorly fitting crowns or dental bridges can leave spaces for bacteria to accumulate and develop into an infection

Periodontal Disease link to other health issues

The human body functions as an integrated whole. A diseased condition in one part of your body can affect other parts of your body and cause damage in areas far removed from the original point of trouble.

Numerous studies are showing significant relationships between periodontal disease and serious health conditions to include diabetes, respiratory disease, cardiovascular disease and strokes.

Request an Appointment

Fill out the form below and click “Send.” A staff member will contact you to schedule your appointment. If you leave a message outside of our office hours, we will contact you during our next business day.