What is Periodontal Disease?
The term “periodontal”means “around the tooth.” Periodontal disease (also known as periodontitis or gum disease) is a common inflammatory condition which affects the supporting and surrounding soft tissues of the tooth; also the jawbone itself when in its most advanced stages.
Periodontal disease is most often preceded by gingivitis which is a bacterial infection of the gum tissue. A bacterial infection affects the gums when the toxins contained in plaque begin to irritate and inflame the gum tissues. Once this bacterial infection colonizes in the gum pockets between the teeth, it becomes much more difficult to remove and treat. Periodontal disease is a progressive condition that eventually leads to the destruction of the connective tissue and jawbone. If left untreated, it can lead to shifting teeth, loose teeth and eventually tooth loss.
Periodontal disease is the leading cause of tooth loss among adults in the developed world and should always be promptly treated.
Types of Periodontal Disease
When left untreated, gingivitis (mild gum inflammation) can spread to below the gum line. When the gums become irritated by the toxins contained in plaque, a chronic inflammatory response causes the body to break down and destroy its own bone and soft tissue. There may be little or no symptoms as periodontal disease causes the teeth to separate from the infected gum tissue. Deepening pockets between the gums and teeth are generally indicative that soft tissue and bone is being destroyed by periodontal disease.
Here are some of the most common types of periodontal disease:
- Chronic periodontitis – Inflammation within supporting tissues cause deep pockets and gum recession. It may appear the teeth are lengthening, but in actuality, the gums (gingiva) are receding. This is the most common form of periodontal disease and is characterized by progressive loss of attachment, interspersed with periods of rapid progression.
- Aggressive periodontitis – This form of gum disease occurs in an otherwise clinically healthy individual. It is characterized by rapid loss of gum attachment, chronic bone destruction and familial aggregation.
- Necrotizing periodontitis – This form of periodontal disease most often occurs in individuals suffering from systemic conditions such as HIV, immunosuppression and malnutrition. Necrosis (tissue death) occurs in the periodontal ligament, alveolar bone and gingival tissues.
- Periodontitis caused by systemic disease – This form of gum disease often begins at an early age. Medical condition such as respiratory disease, diabetes and heart disease are common cofactors.
Treatment for Periodontal Disease
There are many surgical and nonsurgical treatments the periodontist may choose to perform, depending upon the exact condition of the teeth, gums and jawbone. A complete periodontal exam of the mouth will be done before any treatment is performed or recommended.
Here are some of the more common treatments for periodontal disease:
- Scaling and root planing – In order to preserve the health of the gum tissue, the bacteria and calculus (tartar) which initially caused the infection, must be removed. The gum pockets will be cleaned and treated with antibiotics as necessary to help alleviate the infection. A prescription mouthwash may be incorporated into daily cleaning routines.
- Tissue regeneration – When the bone and gum tissues have been destroyed, regrowth can be actively encouraged using grafting procedures. A membrane may be inserted into the affected areas to assist in the regeneration process.
- Pocket elimination surgery – Pocket elimination surgery (also known as flap surgery) is a surgical treatment which can be performed to reduce the pocket size between the teeth and gums. Surgery on the jawbone is another option which serves to eliminate indentations in the bone which foster the colonization of bacteria.
- Dental implants – When teeth have been lost due to periodontal disease, the aesthetics and functionality of the mouth can be restored by implanting prosthetic teeth into the jawbone. Tissue regeneration procedures may be required prior to the placement of a dental implant in order to strengthen the bone.
Ask your dentist if you have questions or concerns about periodontal disease, periodontal treatment, or dental implants.
Our Preventive Program
Our dental hygienists are committed to your oral health. Our program is customized to every patient, depending on your dental needs. It is designed to help educate our patients and provide you with the best preventive care. Their goal is to help you preserve your teeth by preventing new cavities and treating periodontal disease. We want you to value your smile for a lifetime.
Common cofactors associated with periodontal disease:
A research study has shown that individuals with pre-existing diabetic conditions are more likely to either have, or be more susceptible to periodontal disease. Periodontal disease can increase blood sugar levels which makes controlling the amount of glucose in the blood difficult. This factor alone can increase the risk of serious diabetic complications. Conversely, diabetes thickens blood vessels and therefore makes it harder for the mouth to rid itself of excess sugar. Excess sugar in the mouth creates a breeding ground for the types of oral bacteria that cause gum disease.
There are several theories which explain the link between heart disease and periodontitis. One such theory is that the oral bacteria strains which exacerbate periodontal disease attach themselves to the coronary arteries when they enter the bloodstream. This in turn contributes to both blood clot formation and the narrowing of the coronary arteries, possibly leading to a heart attack.
A second possibility is that the inflammation caused by periodontal disease causes a significant plaque build up. This can swell the arteries and worsen pre-existing heart conditions. An article published by the American Academy of Periodontology suggests that patients whose bodies react to periodontal bacteria have an increased risk of developing heart disease.
Women in general are at increased risk of developing periodontal disease because of hormone fluctuations that occur during puberty, pregnancy and menopause. Research suggests that pregnant women suffering from periodontal disease are more at risk of preeclampsia and delivering underweight, premature babies.
Periodontitis increases levels of prostaglandin, which is one of the labor-inducing chemicals. Elevated levels prostaglandin may trigger premature labor, and increase the chances of delivering an underweight baby. Periodontal disease also elevates C-reactive proteins (which have previously been linked to heart disease). Heightened levels of these proteins can amplify the inflammatory response of the body and increase the chances of preeclampsia and low birth weight babies.
Oral bacterium linked with gum disease has been shown to possibly cause or worsen conditions such as emphysema, pneumonia and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD). Oral bacteria can be drawn into the lower respiratory tract during the course of normal inhalation and colonize; causing bacterial infections. Studies have shown that the repeated infections which characterize COPD may be linked with periodontitis.
In addition to the bacterial risk, inflammation in gum tissue can lead to severe inflammation in the lining of the lungs, which aggravates pneumonia. Individuals who suffer from chronic or persistent respiratory issues generally have low immunity. This means that bacteria can readily colonize beneath the gum line unchallenged by body’s immune system.
If you have questions or concerns about periodontal disease and your overall health, please ask your dentist and hygienist. We care about your overall health and your smile!