Periodontal diseases are chronic bacterial gum infections that affect the tissues and bone that support teeth and hold them in place.
- Gums that bleed easily
- Red, swollen, or tender gums
- Persistent bad breath
- Loose or separating teeth
- A change in the way your teeth fit together when you bite
The word periodontal means “around the tooth” and healthy gum tissue fits like a cuff around each tooth. Where the gum line meets the tooth, it forms a slight v-shaped crevice known as a sulcus, the depth of which is typically around three millimeters or less in healthy teeth. However, as tissues become damaged due to periodontal disease, the sulcus develops into a pocket that is greater than three millimeters. A special probe is used to measure pocket depths during a periodontal examination. Enlarged pockets make it difficult to practice effective oral hygiene as they harbor and promote the growth of harmful bacteria. If these pockets are left untreated, periodontal diseases may eventually lead to tooth and bone loss.
What causes periodontal disease?
Countless bacteria fill the mouth and certain types produce toxins and enzymes that can irritate the gums and cause inflammation. As a result of this inflammation, which can sometimes be painless, damage can occur at the attachment of the gums and bone to the teeth. Plaque, the sticky, colorless film that constantly forms on the teeth and the surfaces lining the mouth, can harden into rough porous deposits called calculus, or tartar. By itself, tartar is not the main cause of periodontal disease, but the pores in tartar hold bacteria and harmful toxins, which are impossible to remove even with regular brushing and must be removed during a professional dental cleaning.
Are you at risk?
Several factors that increase the risk of periodontal disease:
- Smoking or chewing tobacco– Tobacco users are much more likely than nonusers to develop plaque and tartar on their teeth, have deeper pockets, and have greater loss of bone and tissue supporting teeth. Periodontal treatment is also less successful in patients who continue to smoke.
- Systemic diseases– Diabetes, blood cell disorders, HIV infections, and AIDS can lower the body’s natural ability to resist and fight infection, making periodontal diseases more severe
- Medications– Many drugs, such as steroids, oral contraceptives, or medications used to treat epilepsy, cancer, and blood pressure, can affect the gums or reduce saliva production. A lack of saliva can result in chronic dry mouth and cause gum irritation. Always advise your dentist of any medications you are currently taking and any changes in your health.
- Bridges that no longer fit properly, crooked, crowded teeth, or defective fillings may hold plaque in place and increase the risk of periodontal disease development.
- Hormone levels– Changes in hormone levels due to puberty, pregnancy, and oral contraceptives can cause increased sensitivity in gum tissue to toxins and enzymes and can accelerate growth of some bacteria.
- Genetics- Certain patients may be predisposed to a more aggressive, severe type of periodontitis due to genetics. A family history of tooth loss periodontal disease need to pay particular attention to the health of their gums.