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A study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that half of all American adults have periodontal disease. Also called “periodontitis” or simply “gum disease,” periodontal disease is a result of untreated bacterial growth attacking the tissue that surrounds teeth, and may eventually result in tooth loss.
The long road to periodontal disease begins with bacteria growing in plaque buildup. This plaque turns into tartar, which then begins to attack the gums. This results in inflamed gums that are prone to bleeding during routine brushing.
After enough time has passed without treating the problem, the gums and bone structure begin to pull away from teeth and this creates small spaces, which then become infected. The bacteria in plaque form toxins that begin to break down the bones and tissue in the mouth. As the disease worsens, teeth eventually become loose and may eventually fall out.
Recent research has even found that periodontal disease may contribute to the most common diseases in America: strokes, cardiovascular disease and diabetes, although it is not fully known the mechanism by which gum disease increases the risk for these diseases.
Worst of all, the disease is painless for a long time, so it is difficult to detect without regular dental check-ups.
Periodontal disease is diagnosed by your dentist or dental hygienist during a periodontal examination. This type of exam should always be part of your regular dental check-up.
Your dentist will perform a thorough periodontal examination at your routine dental check-up. By using a periodontal probe, your dentist will measure the depth of the space between your teeth, also called the sulcus. If the sulcus measures 3 mm or less and does not bleed, this is considered healthy. (Of course, pockets get deeper as gum disease worsens.) This sulcus depth information, combined with judgments of bleeding, inflammation, and bone loss will determine if the patient is healthy or is on the path to gum disease. Gum disease itself can be classified in three stages:
Before deciding on proper treatment for periodontal disease, your dentist and dental hygienist must evaluate and assess the severity and progression of the disease. Periodontal disease worsens as the space between the tooth and gums (called the sulcus) fill with plaque, tartar, and bacteria, irritating the surrounding tissues. As time passes with these irritants lodged the sulcus, damage is caused to the gums and bones that support the teeth.
Regular dental visits will ensure that the disease is caught in the early stages of gingivitis. In this case, assuming no damage has yet occurred, your dentist will simply recommend one or two regular cleanings. Your dentist will also recommend coming in for regular cleanings as well as advise you on how to improve your dental hygiene habits at home.
On the other hand, if periodontal disease has reach a more advanced stage, a periodontal procedure called scaling and root planing—also called a “deep cleaning”—will be advised. After numbing one quadrant of the mouth at a time, plaque, tartar, and toxins are removed from above and below the gum line (scaling) and root surfaces will be smoothed (planing). The purpose of this procedure is to help pockets to reduce in size and gum tissue to heal. To help prevent infection and promote healing, your dentist may recommend medicated mouth rinses, an electric tooth brush, and certain medications.
Periodontal surgery is the last resort in cases where pockets do not heal after scaling and root planing. This will make teeth easier to clean. Lastly, your dentist may recommend visiting a specialist of the gums and supporting bone, also called a periodontist.
Of course, the best weapon against periodontal disease is practicing healthy dental habits and preventing it from creeping up in the first place.
In addition to practicing healthy oral hygiene at home, schedule regular periodontal cleanings with your dentist. These cleanings are specially geared toward preventing gum disease. The dentist will check for tooth decay, polish your teeth to remove plaque, and measure your pocket depths. Your dentist will also take x-rays to get a more complete view of your oral health and catch any problems before they worsen.