Periodontal (gum) disease is insidious. It is an infection of the gums that starts out as plaque, an opaque film on the teeth that hardens to form tartar. As tartar accumulates, it harbors bacteria that attack the soft tissue around the gums. This is the early stage of gum disease known as Gingivitis. Left untreated, Gingivitis becomes Periodontitis which ultimately destroys the tissue surrounding your teeth AND the bone that holds your teeth in place. Except for bad breath and gums that bleed, there are very few early warning signals. The disease advances silently, often without pain, and before you know it, you are losing your teeth and you don't know why.
All gum disease begins with the accumulation of plaque, a sticky deposit of bacteria, mucus, and food particles that build up along the gumline and between the teeth. Plaque must be removed daily to prevent buildup. Brushing and flossing, in addition to at least two professional cleanings a year, will control gingivitis in most patients.
If gingivitis is not treated, or is treated too late, the result is periodontitis. This occurs when plaque migrates beneath the gums, turning it into a hard substance called tarter. Tarter can only be removed during a professional cleaning. At this stage, skilled care is essential to save tooth loss. A procedure called scaling and root planing is performed to remove the hidden plaque and tarter from below the gumline.
Do you have gum disease? Warning signs include red, swollen, tender, bleeding or receding gums; persistent bad breath; changes in tooth position; and the development of pockets between gums and teeth. It used to be that your dentist could only diagnose periodontal disease from x-rays that showed loss of bone around the teeth. The exciting news is that gum disease and periodontal disease can now be sucessfully treated BEFORE teeth become loose from bone loss. Your hygienist and dentist can measure the pockets and bleeding points around your teeth and institute non-surgical treatment before you suffer the irreversible bone destruction of periodontal disease.
Tooth loss is only the most obvious indicator of gum disease. Scientific research has discovered linkage between gum disease and stroke, heart disease, diabetes - even an increased risk for pregnant women. When your gums become diseased, your entire immune system is weakened.
In the past, fear of painful dental surgery has kept people with gum disease from seeking the care they needed. Well, those days are gone forever.