Periodontal disease is an inflammatory disease of the supporting structures of the teeth.
All mouths contain bacteria. Much of this bacteria exists within plaque, which is a clear biofilm that naturally exists on the teeth. With good oral hygiene, including regular brushing, flossing and regular professional dental cleanings, plaque is removed from the base of the teeth and the periodontal disease process is prevented.
However, if plaque is allowed to accumulate, a process called gingivitis (gum inflammation) begins.
The oral bacteria found in plaque, if left unchecked, will begin to accumulate around the base of teeth and in the gum pockets between the teeth. The presence of the bacteria and its waste products cause the human body’s immune system to respond. Part of this response is inflammation. This immune response only gets worse as bacteria continues to accumulate and the inflammation continues to spread.
The consequences of the inflammation are considerable. Gingivitis is one of the first steps in the path of periodontal disease. Symptoms include swollen and bright red or purple gums, bleeding while brushing and tenderness or pain. Bad breath is also usually present during gingivitis.
Gingivitis is preventable, and treatable. Removal of the plaque at a dental office is a first step. Improved dental hygiene and a change in the habits of the patient are also necessary. If treated early enough gingivitis can be reversed without permanent damage to the gums or teeth.
However, if not halted or reversed, gingivitis will usually progress to periodontitis. This more severe and damaging process takes place when bacteria invade deeper into gums and/or the root structures of the teeth.
When this happens, the body responds with an exacerbated inflammatory process in the hard and soft tissues that support and surround the teeth (gum, periodontal ligament and bone). The bacteria and inflammation eventually cause damage of these structures. The bone that supports the teeth can be destroyed, the teeth may loosen and fall out.
Periodontal disease is a silent killer of teeth. Even teeth that appear white and healthy may be suffering from periodontal disease.
Symptoms of periodontitis include: bleeding gums, swollen gums, visible hard plaque deposits, bad breath and gum recession that makes teeth appear longer .
In addition to this, there are possibly life changing consequences. Although the connection is not direct, there seems to be a relationship between diabetes, heart disease, stroke, atherosclerosis and severe periodontitis. Oral infection can make its way from the mouth into the bloodstream and may cause inflammation systemically.
A common misconception is that the infection and disease of the gums and teeth do not affect general health. It is important to realize that periodontitis is a severe inflammatory infection which should not be left untreated.
Pain is not always apparent, which leads some people to underestimate the extent of their periodontitis.
Regular visits to a periodontist can ensure that periodontitis and its consequences are prevented or treated. As a board certified periodontist, Dr. Gay specializes in recognizing, preventing and treating the signs, symptoms and complications of periodontitis.