Periodontal diseases are mainly the result of infections and inflammation of the gums and bone surrounding and support the teeth. In its early stage, called gingivitis, the gums can become swollen and red, and they may bleed. In its more severe form, called periodontitis, the gums can pull away from the tooth, and supporting bone can be lost. We mostly diagnose periodontal disease in adults. Periodontal disease and tooth decay are the two biggest threats to dental health.
A recent CDC report provides the following data related to the prevalence of periodontitis in the U.S.:
- 2% of adults aged 30 years and older have some form of periodontal disease.
- Periodontal disease increases with age.
This condition is more common in men than women (56.4% vs. 38.4%)
Bacteria in the mouth infect tissue surrounding the tooth, causing inflammation around the tooth leading to periodontal disease. When bacteria stay on the teeth long enough, they form a plaque film, which eventually hardens to tartar, also called calculus. Tartar build-up can spread below the gum line, which makes the teeth harder to clean. Then, only a dental health professional can remove the tartar and stop the periodontal disease process.
The following are warning signs of periodontal disease:
- Bad breath or bad taste that won’t go away
- Red or swollen gums
- Tender or bleeding gums
- Painful chewing
- Loose teeth
- Sensitive teeth
- Gums that have pulled away from your teeth
- Any change in the way your teeth fit together when you bite
- Any change in the fit of partial dentures
Certain factors increase the risk of periodontal disease:
- Poor oral hygiene
- Heredity factors
- Crooked teeth
- Underlying immuno-deficiencies
- Fillings that have become defective
- Taking medications that cause dry mouth
- Bridges that no longer fit properly
- Female hormonal changes, such as with pregnancy or the use of oral contraceptives
Prevention and treatment
Gingivitis can be controlled and treated with good oral hygiene and regular professional cleaning. More severe forms of periodontal disease can also be treated successfully but may require more extensive treatment. Such treatment might include a deep cleaning of the tooth surfaces below the gums, medications prescribed to take by mouth or placed directly under the gums, and sometimes corrective surgery or laser therapy.
To help prevent or control periodontal diseases, it is essential to:
- Brush and floss every day to remove the bacteria that cause gum disease.
- See a dentist at least once a year for checkups, or more frequently if you have any warning signs or risk factors mentioned above.