About Gum Disease
Periodontal diseases (gum disease) , including gingivitis and periodontitis, are serious infections that, left untreated, can lead to tooth loss. The word periodontal literally means “around the tooth.” Periodontal disease is a chronic bacterial infection that affects the gums and bone supporting the teeth.
Periodontal disease can affect one tooth or many teeth. It begins when the bacteria in plaque (the sticky, colorless film that constantly forms on your teeth) causes the gums to become inflamed.
In the mildest form of the disease, gingivitis, the gums redden, swell and bleed easily. There is usually little or no discomfort. Gingivitis is often caused by inadequate oral hygine. Gingivitis is reversible with professional treatment and good oral home care.
Untreated gingivitis can advance to periodontitis. With time, plaque can spread and grow below the gum line. Toxins produced by the bacteria in plaque irritate the gums. The toxins stimulate a chronic inflammatory response in which the body in essence turns on itself, and the tissues and bone that support the teeth are broken down and destroyed. Gums separate from the teeth, forming pockets (spaces between the teeth and gums) that become infected. As the disease progresses, the pockets deepen and more gum tissue and bone are destroyed. Often, this destructive process has very mild symptoms. Eventually, teeth can become loose and may have to be removed.
Causes of Periodontal Disease
The main cause of periodontal disease is bacterial plaque, a sticky, colorless film that constantly forms on your teeth. However, factors like the following also affect the health of your gums.
Tobacco users also are at increased risk for periodontal disease. In fact, recent studies have shown that tobacco use may be one of the most significant risk factors in the development and progression of periodontal disease.
Research proves that up to 30% of the population may be genetically susceptible to gum disease. Despite aggressive oral care habits, these people may be six times more likely to develop periodontal disease. Identifying these people with a genetic test before they even show signs of the disease and getting them into early interventive treatment may help them keep their teeth for a lifetime.
Pregnancy and Puberty
As a woman, you know that your health needs are unique. You know that brushing and flossing daily, a healthy diet, and regular exercise are all important to help you stay in shape. You also know that at specific times in your life, you need to take extra care of yourself. Times when you mature and change, for example, puberty or menopause, and times when you have special health needs, such as menstruation or pregnancy. During these particular times, your body experiences hormonal changes. These changes can affect many of the tissues in your body, including your gums. Your gums can become sensitive, and at times react strongly to the hormonal fluctuations. This may make you more susceptible to gum disease. Additionally, recent studies suggest that pregnant women with gum disease are seven times more likely to deliver preterm, low birth weight babies.
As you probably already know, stress is linked to many serious conditions such as hypertension, cancer, and numerous other health problems. What you may not know is that stress also is a risk factor for periodontal disease. Research demonstrates that stress can make it more difficult for the body to fight off infection, including periodontal diseases.
Some drugs, such as oral contraceptives, anti-depressants, and certain heart medicines, can affect your oral health. Just as you notify your pharmacist and other health care providers of all medicines you are taking and any changes in your overall health, you should also inform your dental care provider.
Clenching or Grinding Your Teeth
Has anyone ever told you that you grind your teeth at night? Is your jaw sore from clenching your teeth when you’re taking a test or solving a problem at work? Clenching or grinding your teeth can put excess force on the supporting tissues of the teeth and could speed up the rate at which these periodontal tissues are destroyed.
Diabetes is a disease that causes altered levels of sugar in the blood. Diabetes develops from either a deficiency in insulin production (a hormone that is the key component in the body’s ability to use blood sugars) or the body’s inability to use insulin correctly. According to the American Diabetes Association, approximately 16 million Americans have diabetes; however, more than half have not been diagnosed with this disease. If you are diabetic, you are at higher risk for developing infections, including periodontal diseases. These infections can impair the ability to process and/or utilize insulin, which may cause your diabetes to be more difficult to control and your infection to be more severe than a non-diabetic.
As you may already know, a diet low in important nutrients can compromise the body’s immune system and make it harder for the body to fight off infection. Because periodontal disease is a serious infection, poor nutrition can worsen the condition of your gums.
Other Systemic Diseases
Diseases that interfere with the body’s immune system may also worsen the condition of the gums.
Types of Periodontal Disease
There are many forms of periodontal disease. The most common ones include the following.
Gingivitis is the mildest form of periodontal disease. It causes the gums to become red, swollen, and bleed easily. There is usually little or no discomfort at this stage. Gingivitis is reversible with professional treatment and good at home oral care.
A form of periodontitis that occurs in patients who are otherwise clinically healthy. Common features include rapid attachment loss and bone destruction and familial aggregation.
A form of periodontal disease resulting in inflammation within the supporting tissues of the teeth, progressive attachment and bone loss and is characterized by pocket formation and/or recession of the gums. It is recognized as the most frequently occurring form of periodontitis. It is prevalent in adults, but can occur at any age. Progression of attachment loss usually occurs slowly, but periods of rapid progression can occur.
Periodontitis as a Manifestation of Systemic Diseases
Periodontititis, often with onset at a young age, associated with one of several systemic diseases, such as diabetes.
Necrotizing Periodontal Diseases
An infection characterized by necrosis of gingival tissues, periodontal ligament and alveolar bone. These lesions are most commonly observed in individuals with systemic conditions including, but not limited to, HIV infection, malnutrition and immunosuppression.
Treatment of Periodontal Disease
- If you’re diagnosed with periodontal disease, your dentist may recommend periodontal surgery. Periodontal surgery is necessary when your dentist determines that the tissue around your teeth is unhealthy and cannot be repaired with non-surgical treatment. An alternative treatment option to conventional periodontal surgery is laser periodontal surgery.
- In 2004, the PerioLase® Nd:YAG Laser received FDA approval to perform a procedure known as: Laser Assisted New Attachment procedure (LANAP) which has been shown in a university study to regenerate a new periodontal attachment.
Don’t Ignore Your Oral Health
If you value your oral as well as your overall health, a periodontal evaluation is a good idea. Sometimes the only way to detect periodontal disease is through a periodontal evaluation. A periodontal evaluation may be especially important if you:
- Notice any symptoms of periodontal disease (bleeding or receding gums, bad breath, etc.)
- Have heart disease, diabetes, respiratory disease or osteoporosis.
- Are thinking of becoming pregnant.
- Have a family member with periodontal disease. Research suggests that the bacteria that cause periodontal disease can pass through saliva. This means the common contact of saliva in families puts children and couples at risk for contracting the periodontal disease of another family member.
- Have a sore or irritation in your mouth that does not get better within two weeks.
The Mouth & Body Connection
In July of 1998, the American Academy of Periodontology launched an effort to educate the public about new findings which support what dental professionals had long suspected: Infections in the mouth can play havoc elsewhere in the body.
Periodontal disease is a bacterial infection, and all infections are cause for concern. Periodontal bacteria can enter the blood stream and travel to major organs and begin new infections. Research is suggesting that this may:
- Contribute to the development of heart disease, the nation’s leading cause of death.
- Increase the risk of stroke.
- Increase a woman’s risk of having a preterm low birth weight baby.
- Pose a serious threat to people whose health is compromised by diabetes, respiratory disease or osteoporosis.
We hope that this information was helpful in better understanding periodontal disease.
Periodontal Gum Disease
Periodontal gum disease is a serious infection of the mouth that, if left untreated, can lead to tooth loss and is known to be a contributing factor in developing numerous serious diseases. Research has shown that chronic oral infections are associated with, and may contribute to life threatening health problems such as heart disease, strokes, diabetes, spontaneous pre-term births and low-weight babies.
Periodontal disease can affect one tooth or many teeth. It begins when the bacteria in plaque (the sticky, colorless film that constantly forms on everyone’s teeth) causes the gums to become infected and inflamed. In the mildest form of the disease, gingivitis, the gums redden, swell and bleed easily. There is usually little or no discomfort. Gingivitis is often caused by inadequate oral hygiene, especially lack of flossing and is reversible with professional treatment and good oral home care.
Untreated gingivitis can advance to periodontitis. With time, plaque can spread and grow below the gum line. Toxins produced by the bacteria in plaque irritate and inflame the gums. The toxins stimulate a chronic inflammatory response in which the body in essence turns on itself and the gums, ligaments and bone that support the teeth are broken down and destroyed. Gums separate from the teeth, forming pockets (spaces between the teeth and gums) that become infected. As the disease progresses, the pockets deepen and more gum tissue, ligaments and bone are broken down and destroyed. Initially this destructive process has very mild symptoms and the patient may not be aware he has a serious infection and the damage it is causing below the gum line. Eventually, teeth can become loose and may be lost or have to be removed. This pernicious infection can be present for years and is believed to adversely affect the body’s immune system making it more susceptible to numerous serious diseases.
More than 300 different types of bacteria exist in the human mouth, either alone or in combination. This makes treating periodontal disease difficult, time consuming and expensive as the periodontist tries various antibiotics and treatment modalities until an effective treatment plan is developed.
To add to the periodontist’s difficulty, the existing manual pick and probe methodology currently used to diagnose periodontal disease and monitor its treatment (described below) is disruptive to the healing process and very inaccurate so the treatment plan’s effectiveness may not be readily ascertainable. This can result in a trial and error approach that can last for many months and be very time consuming and expensive. In the meantime, as the patient’s immune system fights this chronic and perhaps serious infection, it creates an opportunity for other serious diseases to develop. Like any other serious infection, if not promptly treated with the proper types and amounts of antibiotics, periodontitis can result in severe systemic infection that can even become life-threatening.