An Overview of Periodontal (Gum) Disease

Periodontal disease, more commonly known as “Gum” disease, is the infection of the tissue around and in between teeth and supporting the teeth. Periodontal disease attacks directly beneath the gum line, causing supportive structures that keep the tooth in place to weaken. As the disease progresses, a pocket begins to form in the infected area between the teeth. There are two forms of periodontal diseases, gingivitis and periodontis. Gingivitis is the milder form of the disease, affecting only the gums and doesn’t involve bone loss and being reversible with treatment. If left untreated however, gingivitis will continue to progress into periodontis, a very destructive form of the disease which involves both the gingiva and the periodontium. The periodontium is one of four tissues that support the teeth in a person’s mouth. It consists of the gingiva, the cementum (the tooth tissue that lines the outside of the roots), the periodontal ligament (the soft tissue that connects the tooth to the bone) and the alveolar bone (the bone surrounding the tooth). So periodontis will affect all 4 of these in some way.

Increased risks for both types of periodontal diseases are associated with:

  • patient non-compliance, including lack of or insufficient homecare as well as failure to have regular dental visits, is considered the main aetiological factor.
  • Tobacco smoking or chewing
  • Systemic diseases such as diabetes
  • Some types of medication such as steroids, some types of anti-epilepsy drugs, cancer therapy drugs, some calcium channel blockers and oral contraceptives
  • Bridges that no longer fit properly
  • Crooked teeth
  • Fillings that have become defective
  • Pregnancy or use of oral contraceptives

Periodontal disease is usually painless but there are certain
Signs that may indicate the presence of periodontal disease:

  • Gums that bleed easily
  • Red, Swollen, tender gums
  • Gums that have pulled away from the teeth (receding gums)
  • Persistent bad breath (halitosis) or bad taste
  • Permanent teeth that are loose or separating
  • Any change in the way your teeth fit together
  • Any change in the fit of partial dentures

The main cause for all forms of gum disease is plaque. Plaque consists of a bacterial matrix that forms on teeth above and below the gum line. These bacteria can cause the gums to swell and if long standing allows the ligamental attachments to break allowing more of these bacteria to enter deeper down the root surface. This soft plaque will occasionally harden. The hardened form of plaque is known as calculus or tartar. Once this forms, a dental professional will be the only one who can remove it. A dentist or hygienist as part of a routine exam, measures the pocket depths of all teeth. Any pocket 3mm or less is deemed cleansable by the patient. Anything over 5mm in depth has the potential to cause tooth loss if not treated.

A healthy diet, good dental hygiene and regular visits to the dentists can help regress and prevent periodontal diseases. Prevention being the key.