Periodontitis is a serious gum infection that damages the soft tissue and destroys the bone that supports your teeth. It can cause tooth loss or worse, an increased risk of heart attack or stroke and other serious health problems.
Periodontitis is common but largely preventable. Periodontitis is usually the result of poor oral hygiene. Brushing at least twice a day, flossing daily and getting regular dental checkups can greatly reduce your chance of developing periodontitis.
There are different types of periodontitis. Chronic periodontitis is the most common, affecting mostly adults, though children can be affected, too. Aggressive periodontitis usually begins in childhood or early adulthood and affects only a small number of people.
Causes of Periodontitis
It is believed that periodontitis starts with plaque- a sticky film composed of bacteria. Plaque forms on your teeth when starches and sugars in food interact with bacteria normally found in your mouth. Brushing and flossing your teeth removes plaque. But plaque re-forms quickly, usually within 24 hours.
Plaque that stays on your teeth longer than two or three days can harden under your gumline into tartar. Tartar makes plaque more difficult to remove and acts as a reservoir for bacteria. You can't get rid of tartar by brushing and flossing- you need a professional dental cleaning to remove it.
The longer that plaque and tartar remain on your teeth, the more damage they can do. Initially, they may simply irritate and inflame the gingiva, the part of your gum around the base of your teeth. This is called gingivitis, the mildest form of periodontal disease.
Signs and symptoms associated with periodontitis include:
- Swollen gums
- Bright red or purplish gums
- Gums that feel tender when touched
- Gums that pull away from your teeth (recede), making your teeth look longer than normal
- New spaces developing between your teeth
- Pus between your teeth and gums
- Bad breath
- Bad taste in your mouth
- Loose teeth
- A change in the way your teeth fit together when you bite
The objective of the treatment is to thoroughly clean the pockets around teeth and prevent damage to surrounding bone. Treatment may be performed by a periodontist or a dentist. Here are some of the treatment options:
- Scaling: Scaling removes tartar and bacteria from your tooth surfaces and beneath your gums. It may be performed using instruments or an ultrasonic device.
- Root planing: Root planing smoothes the root surfaces, discouraging further build-up of tartar and bacterial endotoxin.
- Antibiotics: Your dentist may recommend using topical or oral antibiotics to help control bacterial infection.
- Flap surgery (pocket reduction surgery): In this procedure, your dentist makes tiny incisions in your gum so that a section of gum tissue can be lifted back, exposing the roots for more effective scaling and root planing.
- Soft tissue grafts: When you lose gum tissue to periodontal disease, your gumline recedes. You may need to have some of the damaged soft tissue reinforced. This is usually done by removing a small amount of tissue from the roof of your mouth (palate) or another donor source and attaching it to the affected area.
- Bone grafting: This procedure is performed when periodontitis has destroyed the bone surrounding your tooth root. The graft may be composed of small fragments of your own bone, or the bone may be synthetic or donated. The bone graft helps prevent tooth loss by holding your tooth in place.
- Enamel matrix derivative application: Another technique involves applying a special gel to a diseased tooth root. This gel contains the same proteins found in developing tooth enamel and stimulates the growth of healthy bone and tissue.
The best way to prevent periodontitis is to follow a program of good oral hygiene
, one that you begin early and practice consistently throughout life. That means brushing your teeth at least twice daily- in the morning and before going to bed- and flossing at least once a day. Better yet, brush after every meal or snack or as your dentist recommends.