Periodontal disease, commonly known as “gum disease,” is a leading cause of tooth loss in adults. It occurs when harmful bacteria infect the gums and create gaps around the teeth. Periodontal disease is termed a “silent disease” because it may not produce symptoms until it has progressed to an advanced stage. Periodontal disease is preventable, and your dentist can treat the condition. If left untreated, periodontal disease can lead to tooth, gum, and bone loss.
Your gums, periodontal ligaments, and underlying bones support your teeth and hold them in place. It is important to keep this foundation healthy. Your mouth contains bacteria. Some of the bacteria are good, and some types of bacteria can be harmful. A major cause of periodontal disease is bacteria that are found in plaque.
Plaque is a thin sticky film that constantly forms over your teeth. The sugar or starch in foods fuels plaque. The sugars mix with the bacteria in plaque to form destructive toxins. Plaque helps to hold the toxins in place against your teeth. Plaque that has hardened on your teeth is called tarter. Tarter provides plaque with an ideal growing space. Tartar can spread below your gums and onto your tooth’s root. This makes plaque removal very difficult.
Although periodontal disease is caused by plaque, several factors can increase the risk, severity, and pace of the condition. People who smoke or chew tobacco are more likely to develop periodontal disease. Structural problems, such as poor fitting dentures, poorly aligned teeth, and teeth grinding, can speed the progression of bone loss. Pregnancy and oral contraceptives (“the pill”) can exaggerate the gum’s response to plaque. Some medical conditions, such as HIV, AIDS, and diabetes, can lower resistance to infection and lead to more severe periodontal disease. Additionally, certain medications, including steroids, anti-epilepsy medications, chemotherapy, and some high blood pressure medications, can affect your gums.
Periodontitis is one of the most common types of gum disease. It is a progressive condition, meaning that it tends to get worse over time. However, periodontitis can be halted with early detection and treatment. This periodontal disease typically develops in stages: gingivitis, periodontitis, and advanced periodontitis.
Gingivitis is frequently, but not always, the first stage of periodontitis. Tartar on the roots of your teeth can lead to gingivitis. The plaque irritates your gums and causes them to pull away from your teeth, creating spaces or pockets. Gingivitis is a reversible disease if it is treated. Without treatment, gingivitis can lead to more serious conditions, including periodontitis and advanced periodontitis.
Periodontitis results from high levels of bacteria in plaque that release tissue-destroying enzymes. The enzymes damage the periodontal ligaments and bone that hold your teeth in place. Periodontitis creates bigger pockets around your teeth, which fill with and hold more damaging plaque. As the gums pull or recede further from your tooth, its roots become exposed. This can lead to tooth decay. The tooth decay can cause your teeth to be very sensitive to hot and cold temperatures. Treatments at this stage are aimed at stopping the disease and reversing its progression.
Periodontitis can progress to advanced periodontitis. At this stage the gums, supporting ligaments, and bones are damaged to an even greater extent. With such a weak foundation, tooth loss can occur. Although advanced periodontitis is not fully reversible with treatment, treatment can improve your oral health and prevent further destruction.