The word periodontal means “around the tooth”. Periodontal disease attacks the gums and the bone that support the teeth. Plaque is a sticky film of food debris, bacteria, and saliva. If plaque is not removed, it turns into calculus (tartar). When plaque and calculus are not removed, they begin to destroy the gums and bone. Periodontal disease is characterized by red, swollen, and bleeding gums.
Four out of five people have periodontal disease and don’t know it! Most people are not aware of it because the disease is usually painless in the early stages.
Not only is it the number one reason for tooth loss, research suggests that there may be a link between periodontal disease and other diseases such as, stroke, bacterial pneumonia, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and increased risk during pregnancy. Researchers are determining if inflammation and bacteria associated with periodontal disease affects these systemic diseases and conditions. Smoking also increases the risk of periodontal disease.
Good oral hygiene, a balanced diet, and regular dental visits can help reduce your risk of developing periodontal disease.
Common Signs & Symptoms
It is extremely important to note that periodontal disease can progress without any signs or symptoms such as pain. This is why regular dental checkups are exceptionally important. Described below are some of the most common signs and symptoms of periodontitis.
If you have any of these signs or symptoms, the advice of a general dentist or periodontist should be sought as soon as possible:
Unexplained bleeding – Bleeding when brushing, flossing or eating food is one of the most common symptoms of a periodontal infection. The toxins in plaque cause a bacterial infection which makes the tissues prone to bleeding.
Pain, redness or swelling – A periodontal infection may be present if the gums are swollen, red or painful for no apparent reason. It is essential to halt the progression of the infection before the gum tissue and jaw bone have been affected. It is also critical to treat the infection before it is carried into the bloodstream to other areas of the body.
Longer-looking teeth – Periodontal disease can lead to gum recession. The toxins produced by bacteria can destroy the supporting tissue and bones, thus making the teeth look longer and the smile appear more “toothy.”
Bad breath/halitosis – Although breath odor can originate from back of the tongue, the lungs and stomach, from the food we consume, or from tobacco use, bad breath may be caused by old food particles which sit between the teeth and underneath the gumline. The deeper gum pockets are able to house more debris and bacteria, causing a foul odor.
Loose teeth/change in bite pattern – A sign of rapidly progressing periodontitis is the loosening or shifting of the teeth in the affected area. As the bone tissue gets destroyed, teeth that were once firmly attached to the jawbone become loose or may shift in position.
Pus – Pus oozing from between the teeth is a definitive sign that a periodontal infection is in progress. The pus is a result of the body trying to fight the bacterial infection.
Types of Periodontal Disease
When left untreated, gingivitis (mild gum inflammation) can spread to below the gum line. When the gums become irritated by the toxins contained in plaque, a chronic inflammatory response causes the body to break down and destroy its own bone and soft tissue. There may be little or no symptoms as periodontal disease causes the teeth to separate from the infected gum tissue. Deepening pockets between the gums and teeth are generally indicative that soft tissue and bone is being destroyed by periodontal disease.
Here are some of the most common types of periodontal disease:
Chronic periodontitis – Inflammation within supporting tissues cause deep pockets and gum recession. It may appear the teeth are lengthening, but in actuality, the gums (gingiva) are receding. This is the most common form of periodontal disease and is characterized by progressive loss of attachment, interspersed with periods of rapid progression.
Aggressive periodontitis – This form of gum disease occurs in an otherwise clinically healthy individual. It is characterized by rapid loss of gum attachment, chronic bone destruction and familial aggregation.
Necrotizing periodontitis – This form of periodontal disease most often occurs in individuals suffering from systemic conditions such as HIV, immunosuppression and malnutrition. Necrosis (tissue death) occurs in the periodontal ligament, alveolar bone and gingival tissues.
Periodontitis caused by systemic disease – This form of gum disease often begins at an early age. Medical condition such as respiratory disease, diabetes and heart disease are common cofactors.
Treatment for Periodontal Disease
There are many surgical and nonsurgical treatments the periodontist may choose to perform, depending upon the exact condition of the teeth, gums and jawbone. A complete periodontal exam of the mouth will be done before any treatment is performed or recommended.
Here are some of the more common treatments for periodontal disease:
Scaling and root planing – In order to preserve the health of the gum tissue, the bacteria and calculus (tartar) which initially caused the infection, must be removed. The gum pockets will be cleaned and treated with antibiotics as necessary to help alleviate the infection. A prescription mouthwash may be incorporated into daily cleaning routines.
Tissue regeneration – When the bone and gum tissues have been destroyed, regrowth can be actively encouraged using grafting procedures. A membrane may be inserted into the affected areas to assist in the regeneration process.
Pocket elimination surgery – Pocket elimination surgery (also known as flap surgery) is a surgical treatment which can be performed to reduce the pocket size between the teeth and gums. Surgery on the jawbone is another option which serves to eliminate indentations in the bone which foster the colonization of bacteria.
Dental implants – When teeth have been lost due to periodontal disease, the aesthetics and functionality of the mouth can be restored by implanting prosthetic teeth into the jawbone. Tissue regeneration procedures may be required prior to the placement of a dental implant in order to strengthen the bone.
Ask your dentist if you have questions or concerns about periodontal disease, periodontal treatment, or dental implants.
The Connection Between Periodontal Disease & Your Health
Research studies have shown that there is a strong association between periodontal disease and other chronic conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, pregnancy complications and respiratory disease.
Periodontal disease is characterized by chronic inflammation of the gum tissue, periodontal infection below the gum line and a presence of disease-causing bacteria in the oral region. Halting the progression of periodontal disease and maintaining excellent standards of oral hygiene will not only reduce the risk of gum disease and bone loss, but also reduce the chances of developing other serious illnesses.
Common cofactors associated with periodontal disease:
A research study has shown that individuals with pre-existing diabetic conditions are more likely to either have, or be more susceptible to periodontal disease. Periodontal disease can increase blood sugar levels which makes controlling the amount of glucose in the blood difficult. This factor alone can increase the risk of serious diabetic complications. Conversely, diabetes thickens blood vessels and therefore makes it harder for the mouth to rid itself of excess sugar. Excess sugar in the mouth creates a breeding ground for the types of oral bacteria that cause gum disease.
There are several theories which explain the link between heart disease and periodontitis. One such theory is that the oral bacteria strains which exacerbate periodontal disease attach themselves to the coronary arteries when they enter the bloodstream. This in turn contributes to both blood clot formation and the narrowing of the coronary arteries, possibly leading to a heart attack.
A second possibility is that the inflammation caused by periodontal disease causes a significant plaque build up. This can swell the arteries and worsen pre-existing heart conditions. An article published by the American Academy of Periodontology suggests that patients whose bodies react to periodontal bacteria have an increased risk of developing heart disease.
Women in general are at increased risk of developing periodontal disease because of hormone fluctuations that occur during puberty, pregnancy and menopause. Research suggests that pregnant women suffering from periodontal disease are more at risk of preeclampsia and delivering underweight, premature babies.
Periodontitis increases levels of prostaglandin, which is one of the labor-inducing chemicals. Elevated levels prostaglandin may trigger premature labor, and increase the chances of delivering an underweight baby. Periodontal disease also elevates C-reactive proteins (which have previously been linked to heart disease). Heightened levels of these proteins can amplify the inflammatory response of the body and increase the chances of preeclampsia and low birth weight babies.
Oral bacterium linked with gum disease has been shown to possibly cause or worsen conditions such as emphysema, pneumonia and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD). Oral bacteria can be drawn into the lower respiratory tract during the course of normal inhalation and colonize; causing bacterial infections. Studies have shown that the repeated infections which characterize COPD may be linked with periodontitis.
In addition to the bacterial risk, inflammation in gum tissue can lead to severe inflammation in the lining of the lungs, which aggravates pneumonia. Individuals who suffer from chronic or persistent respiratory issues generally have low immunity. This means that bacteria can readily colonize beneath the gum line unchallenged by body’s immune system.
If you have questions or concerns about periodontal disease and the mouth-body connection, please ask your dentist. We care about your overall health and your smile!