Periodontal disease is the most common cause of tooth loss among adults according to the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR). It plagues many people with no or minimal signs or symptoms. Periodontal disease is a disease of the mouth involving inflammation of the gums and destruction of bone and tissue that supports the teeth. So, how do you know if you have it?
Signs or symptoms you may notice could be halitosis (mouth odor), red or swollen gums, bleeding during brushing or flossing, painful gums, sensitive teeth or movement of the teeth. Diagnosis of periodontal disease occurs in the dental office with a comprehensive exam, radiographs and a periodontal evaluation. The dentist would evaluate radiographs looking for loss of bone around the teeth and a clinical evaluation of bleeding gums, infection, and pocket depths under the gums greater than 3 millimeters. Pocket depths greater than 3 mm represent loss of ligament attachment which is imperative for the stability of the tooth. Depending on the size of the tooth and amount of pocket depth determines the prognosis of the tooth.
The severity of gum disease can range from reversible gingivitis to severe bone loss which would mean losing the tooth or teeth involved. It is caused by the natural occurring bacteria in the mouth. Keeping the bacteria under control by good home care and regular dental visits can prevent gum disease. Other risk factors that can contribute to the disease are smoking, diabetes, medications, immune system diseases and genetic susceptibility.
After diagnosing periodontal disease, the dentist and dental hygienist would recommend various treatments such as deep scaling and root planning (which is the removal of tartar and plague from under the gums), medicated oral mouth rinses, or possible referral to a periodontist. A periodontist is a specialist in treating gum disease with surgical and non-surgical treatment. Once diagnosed and treated the gum disease can be stabilized and maintained with regular dental visits, but know that the bone that was lost can not reform without surgery.
Periodontal disease problems do not just occur in the mouth. First of all, loss of teeth impacts the ability to chew food properly and can cause digestive issues. Secondly, the bacterium that is causing the inflammation in the mouth is also causing chronic conditions in other areas of the body too. The American Academy of Periodontology (www.perio.org) reports studies that have found links between gum disease and heart disease, stroke, osteoporosis, diabetes, respiratory diseases, and pregnancy problems.
Taking care of yourself is taking care of your whole body. Removal of harmful bacteria from your mouth twice daily by brushing, flossing, use of an oral mouth rinse, and regular check ups by your dentist and dental hygienist is vital in reducing the risk of periodontal disease. It is necessary to follow the recommendations of your dentist to keep a healthy mouth.
-Barbara J. Nelson, RDH, BASDH