Periodontal disease, the most common oral health problem affecting adults, progresses gradually and often goes unnoticed until it has reached the more advanced stages.
Periodontal disease is caused by the build-up of plaque, a clear, sticky mass of bacteria, at the attachment site between the gums and teeth.
If plaque is not removed daily by brushing and flossing, it hardens into tartar, which cannot be removed in the same way. Instead, it can lead to infection and inflammation of the gums. These symptoms are indicative of gingivitis, an early, reversible type of periodontal disease that will affect 70% of Canadians at some time in their lives.
Left untreated, the gum tissue attached to the teeth eventually succumbs to the infection, and breaks down. The subsequent attachment loss is accompanied by swelling, bleeding and prominent colour changes in the gums, as well as the breakdown of the underlying, supporting bone structure. Such bone loss is a clear sign of periodontitis, an irreversible form of periodontal disease.
To protect your gums from periodontal disease, brush your teeth at least twice per day for 2 minutes, use floss and antiseptic oral rinse once per day and see your dental team regularly for cleanings and oral examinations. Although oral hygiene is the key, several risk factors have been shown to contribute to the emergency and progression of periodontal disease. These include smoking, hormones (e.g. pregnancy), certain medications and autoimmune diseases.
Check your mouth on a regular basis for these signs of periodontal disease:
Gums that are red around your teeth; a change in the colour of your gums; gums that are shiny, puffy or sore; teeth that are sensitive for no reason; mobile teeth; bad breath that will not go away; a taste of metal in your mouth; teeth that look long; gums that bleed every time you brush or floss (pink in the sink).
It is important to remember that, in its early stages, periodontal disease is very hard to see, leaving many patients unaware of their condition. For this reason, we urge you to come in regularly to let one of our dental professionals check your gums for signs of periodontal disease.
During your check-up appointment, your dentist or dental hygienist may use a dental tool, called a “periodontal probe,” to measure the depth of the pocket between the gums and the tooth. Deep periodontal pockets suggest a high likelihood of tooth loss. X-rays are also used to show structural properties of the underlying bone tissue. A significant reduction in the height of this bone tissue is evidence of more advanced periodontal disease.
If periodontal disease is not treated, teeth become loose and are in danger of falling out. In addition, the disease has been linked to other serious health complications, including heart and respiratory diseases; preterm, low birth weight babies; stroke; osteoporosis; and diabetes.
While the best way to deal with gum disease is to avoid getting it in the first place, removing plaque and tartar does give diseased gums a chance to get better. That’s why in the early stages of periodontal disease, the best treatment is professional dental cleaning by your dentist or dental hygienist to remove tartar, and brushing twice per day and flossing once per day to remove plaque. When periodontal disease is more serious, your dentist may refer you to a periodontist, a specialist in treating conditions of the gums and in restoring (or regenerating) bone and gum tissue that has been lost because of periodontal disease.