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Periodontal Disease: Overview, Stages, Symptoms & Treatment

Periodontal disease definition

Periodontal disease, most widely known as gum disease, is an infection of the tissues that surround and hold your teeth in place. The name “periodontitis” means inflammation surrounding the tooth. It is usually the result of poor flossing and brushing habits that allow plaque, which is a mass of bacteria that grows on the surfaces in the mouth, to build up and harden. This inflammation usually takes the form of swelling, redness and a tendency to bleed while you’re brushing your teeth.

The inflammation is a natural response of the body as a part of its defense system, but if left unchecked it can spread all the way up to the roots of the teeth and destroy the supporting bone and periodontal ligament. In case the periodontal disease is not properly treated it can cause some serious problems, from destroying the tissue that surrounds your teeth to tooth loss.

Although periodontitis is a quite common disease, it is largely preventable. Due to the fact it’s caused by poor oral hygiene, by brushing and flossing your teeth regularly and getting regular checkups at the dentist you can successfully treat it and prevent it.

How Can My Dentist Diagnose Periodontal Disease?

Periodontitis can be diagnosed by simply looking at the symptoms and signs and by a physical examination. For the examination, your dentists will insert a periodontal probe under the hum line and next to the tooth. The dentist will measure how far the probe reaches. The probe should not slide very far below the gum line if the tooth is healthy. If it’s not, the probe will reach deeper under the gum line.

During your dental exam, your dentist will also usually check for pocket depth (the space between the tooth and the gum), firmness, swelling, gum bleeding, your jawbone, teeth movement and proper teeth alignment. To assess the condition of the teeth and jawbone, an X-ray may also help.

What Are the Symptoms of Periodontal Disease?

Periodontal disease always begins with gingivitis, also known as inflammation of the gums. One of the firsts signs you may notice is bleeding from the gums while brushing your teeth. You might become aware of a discolored layer of plaque on the teeth and your gums may start to look swollen and red.

Gingivitis may lead to periodontitis if left untreated, and often the signs aren’t too obvious. Some of the changes you might experience over time are: changes in the positioning of the teeth in the jaws; bad breath or a metallic taste in the mouth; lengthening of the teeth due to gum recession; bleeding from the gums that can be caused by eating, brushing, or it can be spontaneous; extra spaces starting to appear between the teeth; and possibly pain when the gums are touched. Smokers might not notice the bleeding from the gums as much, because of the effect nicotine has on blood vessels, so this disease can go unnoticed for a longer period of time.

Some people become aware of the presence of periodontitis when they are 40 or even 50 years old when a lot of damage is already done. However, if you keep a lookout for these symptoms and regularly do a dental exam, your dentist will be able to detect the signs at a much earlier stage which can save you from a lot of trouble later on.

Stages of periodontal disease

What Causes Periodontal Disease?

Our mouths are full of bacteria, with more than 700 different species of it, which live in harmony and are completely harmless. But, when our teeth are not properly cleaned, the bacteria builds up next to the gums and forms a plaque which becomes a fitting place for dangerous bacteria to grow.

If plaque stays on your teeth it can harden into tartar. Tartar is very hard to remove and the longer it stays on your teeth the more damage it does. Tartar must be removed with a professional dental cleaning – you can’t get rid of it by flossing and brushing your teeth.

Plaque is what causes the mildest form of periodontal disease – gingivitis. Ongoing gingivitis, or gum inflammation, is what can cause periodontitis. Smoking also increases the risk of periodontal disease, and if you already have It, smoking makes it more severe. Once they have gum disease, smokers often develop deeper periodontal pockets because they tend to collect more tartar on their teeth. As the disease gets worse, they are also likely to lose more bone. The longer you smoke the higher the risk of developing gum disease.

Several types of medicines can cause your gums to enlarge which makes them more likely to trap plaque. These medicines include Cyclosporine, Nifedipine, and Phenytoin. Other types of medicine cause xerostomia, or dry mouth. Examples for this are certain drugs for high blood pressure and depression. Plaque is more likely to form when you don’t have enough saliva.

Some other risk factors that can increase your chances of developing periodontitis are: substance abuse; hormonal changes like the ones related to menopause or pregnancy; poor oral health habits; inadequate nutrition like vitamin C deficiency; certain diseases like Crohn’s disease or diabetes; and certain conditions that cause decreased immunity such as cancer treatment and leukemia. 

Periodontal Disease Treatment

The best way to prevent periodontitis is to have good oral hygiene, meaning brushing your teeth at least twice a day for two minutes, and flossing before you brush to clean away the bacteria and loosen food particles. You also must see your dentist regularly for cleanings, every six to twelve chance, or more often if you have risk factors that increase your chance of developing periodontal disease.

Prevent periodontitis with good oral hygiene

The treatment options depend on what stage the disease is, your overall health, and how you have responded to earlier treatments. The goal of the treatment is to control the infection, so any type of treatment will require the patient to keep up with the good daily care at home. The dentist might also suggest changing certain behaviors, like reducing stress, quitting smoking,  maintaining a well-balanced diet, and avoiding grinding and clenching your teeth.

In case you’re having any of the above-mentioned symptoms you should seek treatment from our experienced dentists that are always ready to help. You can make an appointment at one of our two dental offices that are located in St. Petersburg or Tampa and proudly serve both the cities and environs.