What is Periodontal Disease?
Periodontal treatment is necessary when various conditions, such as bacterial infections, affect the health of your gums and jawbones that hold your teeth in place. Retaining your teeth is directly dependent on proper periodontal care and maintenance. Healthy gums enhance the appearance of your teeth, like a frame around a beautiful painting. When your gums become unhealthy, they can either recede or become swollen and red. In later stages, the supporting bone is destroyed and your teeth will shift, loosen, or fall out. These changes not only affect your ability to chew and speak, they also ruin your smile.
Periodontal diseases are ongoing infections of the gums that gradually destroy the jawbones supporting your natural teeth. Periodontal disease affects one or more of the periodontal tissues: alveolar bone, periodontal ligament, cementum, or gingiva. While there are many diseases which affect the tooth-supporting structures, there are two primary bacterial plaque-induced diseases, gingivitis and periodontitis. Gingivitis is considered an infection of the soft gum tissues. While periodontitis is a silent infection that invades deep into the jawbones resulting in their ultimate destruction. When a patient loses the supporting jawbone, they lose their teeth.
Dental plaque, filled with bacteria, is the primary cause of gingivitis and periodontitis in genetically-susceptible individuals. Plaque is a sticky, colorless film, composed primarily of salivary proteins to which the bacteria adhere. Plaque constantly forms on your teeth, even minutes after cleaning. Bacteria found in plaque produce toxins or poisons that irritate the gums. Gums may become inflamed, red, swollen and bleed easily. This infection process is often the origin of bad breath. If this irritation is prolonged, the gums separate from the teeth causing pockets (spaces) to form. These spaces provide the perfect environment for the growth of plaque and the expansion of the bacterial infection. If daily brushing and flossing is neglected, plaque can also harden into a rough, porous substance known as calculus (or tartar). This process can occur both above and below the gum line.
If gingivitis progresses into periodontitis of the soft gum tissues and supporting jawbones (that hold teeth in place), they are destroyed. The progressive loss of this jawbone can lead to loosening and subsequent loss of teeth.
As with many chronic, long-term diseases, periodontal disease is often painless and symptomless until its later stages. Approximately 80% of Americans will be afflicted with periodontal disease by age 45, and 4 out of 5 patients with these aggressively destructive diseases remain unaware of any problem for many years. It is important to practice daily thorough home oral care, maintain regular dental visits and request routine periodontal examinations to reduce the risk of developing these diseases.