Periodontal disease or gum disease describes the various conditions that affect the supporting tissues of the teeth. These include the gum around your teeth which is visible but also the underlying bone and ligaments which are not visible to the naked eye. Very often patients are not aware that they have gum disease because on the surface, everything looks fine and they are not in pain but there could be underlying problems. Over time, as the disease progresses, there will be permanent damage to the supporting tissues. Periodontal disease has also been identified as a risk factor for coronary artery disease and preterm, low birth weight babies. Therefore, it is crucial that you are aware of your periodontal health.
So what causes periodontal disease? Bacteria. It forms a sticky plaque over your teeth and your gums and can also thrive in the pocket between your gum and your tooth. Smoking is also a major risk factor for developing gum disease.
Periodontal disease is a major cause of tooth loss in our community but this does not need to be the case as most forms of periodontal disease are treated very successfully. Firstly, prevention is always better than cure. Periodontal disease can be prevented very simply by having good oral hygiene at home and visiting your dentist regularly. Good oral hygiene includes brushing your teeth twice a day, morning and evening, and flossing daily. By visiting your dentist regularly, they will examine your gum health as part of your normal dental check up and may require x rays to do this. Your dentist will also be able to show you proper ways to brush and floss in order for you to maintain healthy gums and teeth.
If you do have periodontal disease, the progression of this disease can be stopped in the vast majority of cases. Your dentist or dental hygienist will begin by cleaning around your teeth and down to the base of the pocket to remove any of plaque or hard deposits i.e. tartar. Regular review appointments are recommended as well to monitor your gum health and also removing risk factors such as smoking. Most importantly though is to achieve the best possible home care. Your dentist or dental hygienist will only see you once in 3 months but you see your teeth every day. This is the most crucial part of ensuring that your periodontal disease does not progress further.
If your periodontal disease is advanced, he/she may recommend a referral to a periodontist, who is a specialist in gum disease.
Finally, gum disease causes permanent damage to the supporting tissues around your teeth. Once they are lost, it is very difficult to get them back to how they used to be. Therefore, prevention and early detection is the key. This is an ongoing and lifelong activity.