Periodontal Disease: Causes and Treatments

Description:  Gum disease can cause severe tooth loss and cause infectious pockets to develop in gum tissue.  Routine examinations and cleanings are recommended to contain periodontal disease.

Periodontal disease is an infection of the gums and is most commonly caused by plaque and tartar buildup. Although periodontal disease is highly preventable, most adults in the United States have some degree of periodontal disease. Gingivitis, the earliest stage, may appear as red or irritated gums. As the condition progresses, the infection drives deeper into the oral cavity and infects the jawbone and supporting structures of the teeth. Sensitive teeth, a receding gumline and tooth loss are all associated with periodontal disease.

Causes of Gum Disease

The human mouth is filled with oral bacteria. Many are harmless, but P. gingivalis and a few other species combine with saliva and food particles to form a biofilm called plaque. Plaque is colorless and sticky, and it must be removed by regular tooth brushing. When it is not removed, it can harden into tartar. Tartar cannot be removed with brushing and flossing alone; it requires a professional cleaning.

Inadequate dental hygiene is the cause of most cases of gum disease, but in some cases, genetics and other health or lifestyle factors can play a role in the development of periodontal disease. Medications that contribute to gingival overgrowth or that dry out the mouth can both increase an individual’s risk of developing gum disease. Diabetes and certain other health conditions are closely linked to periodontal disease. Smokers are more likely than nonsmokers to develop dental health problems, including gum disease.

Stages of Gum Disease

The earliest stage of gum disease is gingivitis. Gums may be red or swollen, and they are prone to bleeding when teeth are brushed or flossed. Gingivitis is not painful, and many with gingivitis are unaware of the condition until their dentist diagnoses them. At this stage of gum disease, the condition is highly treatable and generally reversible.

If not diagnosed and treated properly, gingivitis will progress to periodontitis. Periodontitis literally means inflammation around the tooth. Infection pockets develop around the base of the crown where the tooth meets the gums. The gums begin to pull away from the teeth as the infection progresses. Plaque and tartar can form in these pockets, which allow bacteria toxins to enter the blood stream. The infection causes connective tissues and bones to break down. Once the infection has progressed to this stage, tooth loss may be inevitable.

Treatments for Gum Disease

If you have been diagnosed with gum disease, your dentist or hygienist will need to determine the extent of the condition. You may need X-rays or other imaging tests to assess bone mass, and you may be referred to a Los Angeles periodontist, a dentist who specializes in treating periodontal disease.

Your dentist or periodontist will discuss your treatment options, which may include lifestyle changes. Improving dental hygiene, eating a nutritious diet and quitting smoking may all play a role in your recovery. Scaling and root planing may also be recommended. Scaling and root planing is essentially a deep cleaning for your teeth. Your dentist will remove all plaque and tartar from your teeth, paying particular attention to the area around the gumline. Antimicrobial rinses or treatments may be prescribed to help control the bacteria. In some cases, your dentist or periodontist may use antibiotic gels or oral medication to help your gums combat the infection and heal.

Advanced periodontal disease may require more extensive treatments. Surgery may be necessary to reduce the pockets around the teeth, or bone and other tissue grafts may be needed to restore your teeth’s supporting structures.

Keeping your teeth and gums healthy after periodontal treatment involves brushing after meals, flossing at least once a day and visiting your dentist or periodontist on your recommended schedule. Your dentist or periodontist may provide you with further instructions. Maintaining good dental hygiene after periodontal treatment can reduce the risk of its reoccurrence.

Bijan Afar DDS, Los Angeles dentist, provides various periodontal treatments for individuals suffering from this disease and strives to help his patients maintain a healthy smile throughout their life.