Periodontal disease, more commonly known as gum disease, is a serious problem that affects millions of people. Periodontal disease can be caused by poor oral hygiene, genetics, medical conditions or the use of some types of medications. Although gum disease is associated with poor oral hygiene habits, because it can be genetic or caused by illness, people who practice good oral hygiene can still get it. If gum disease sets in and is not treated, it will get progressively worse and eventually threaten your teeth themselves.
Periodontal disease begins with bacteria. There are always bacteria present in our mouths, but when left behind, they can build up and cause plaque, a sticky film that attacks the gums. Hardened plaque is called tartar, which has to be scraped off with dental instruments. As periodontal disease continues, it harms the gums and causes them to separate from the teeth. It weakens the connection between the bones and the tooth roots, and if not treated, it can eventually cause tooth loss.
Symptoms of periodontal disease that you may notice include swollen or reddened gums, painful gums or teeth or bleeding gums, especially after brushing. If you have any of these symptoms you should get to the dentist right away. Chronic bad breath that is not directly caused by food or beverages may be a sign of gum disease as well.
Periodontal disease is easy to treat when it is caught early. Simple gingivitis, the first stage of gum disease, is reversible with a thorough cleaning at the dentist’s office. When the disease is below the gum line, a deep cleaning can remove the plaque and tartar. At this stage the disease is called periodontitis.
A deep cleaning, called scaling, goes below the gum line with special instruments, and then the roots are smoothed to prevent reinfection. Antibiotics may be prescribed after treatment. In severe cases of periodontal disease surgery may be required for treatment.
Because genetics and illness can cause gum disease, even the most ardent brushers and flossers need to be aware that they may get gum disease too. The dentist can often diagnose gingivitis before you will see symptoms yourself. Dental checkups can catch periodontal disease early and treat it easily before it can get worse and require extensive treatment.