Periodontal Disease (Gum Disease)
What is Periodontal Disease?
Periodontal disease is a chronic, ongoing oral infection that gradually destroys the supporting structures of your teeth. Periodontal disease affects one or more of the periodontal tissues: alveolar bone, periodontal ligament, cementum, or gingiva. While there are many diseases which affect the tooth-supporting structures, plaque-induced inflammatory lesions make up the majority of periodontal issues, and are divided into two categories: gingivitis and periodontitis. While gingivitis, the less serious of the two, may never progress into periodontitis, it always precedes periodontitis.
Periodontal treatment is necessary when various conditions affect the health of your gums and the regions of your jaw bone that hold your teeth in place. Retaining your teeth is directly dependent on proper periodontal care and maintenance. Healthy gums and bone act as the foundation to enhance the appearance of your teeth. When your gums become unhealthy, they can either recede and/or become swollen and red. In later stages, the supporting bone is destroyed and your teeth may shift, loosen, or fall out. These changes can affect your smile as well as your ability to chew and speak.
Dental plaque is the primary cause of gingivitis. Plaque is a sticky colorless film, composed primarily of food particles and various types of bacteria, which adhere to your teeth at and below the gum line. Plaque constantly forms on your teeth, even minutes after cleaning. Bacteria found in plaque produce toxins that irritate the gums. Gums become inflamed, red, swollen, and bleed easily. If this irritation is prolonged, the gums separate from the teeth causing pockets (spaces) to form. If daily brushing and cleaning between teeth is neglected, plaque can also harden into a rough, porous substance called calculus (tartar) forming above and below the gum line.
When gingivitis progresses into periodontitis, the supporting gum tissue and bone that holds teeth in place deteriorates. The progressive loss of the alveolar bone can lead to gum recession, tooth loosening, and subsequent loss of teeth. Periodontitis progresses as bacteria adhere to the root surface producing toxins as well as inducing an exaggerated immune response.
Like many other chronic diseases, periodontal disease is serious and often painless. Forty-seven percent of Americans will be afflicted with periodontal disease by age 30, with most unaware they have it. It is important to maintain proper oral hygiene and regular dental visits to reduce the risk of this infection.