Periodontal Disease (Periodontitis)

Periodontitis is advanced gum disease.  While gingivitis, the earlier stage, affects only the gums, periodontitis is inflammation and infection that has spread to surrounding tissue, including tooth and bone.

What is periodontitis?

Gum disease is categorized by severity.  Gingivitis is milder, treatable and reversible early-stage gum disease that affects only the gums.  Periodontitis is advanced gum disease, where the inflammation and infection have spread to surrounding tissues.

What causes periodontitis?

Periodontitis is caused by plaque, which unremoved, causes a gum infection which spreads to surrounding tissue.  Plaque is a sticky film of bacteria that forms daily on our teeth.  It reacts with the food we eat to produce acids and toxins that cause tooth decay.  Newly formed plaque can be removed by brushing and flossing, but plaque that is not removed hardens into tartar or calculus.  This hard layer of tartar forms at and below the gumline and cannot be removed by brushing. Tartar and plaque combine to accelerate tooth decay and irritate gums.  The resulting inflammation and infection of the gums is called gingivitis.  Untreated gingivitis creates pockets of plaque, tartar and bacteria between your teeth and gums.  This spreads infection below the gums, eventually causing bone and tissue loss.  This condition, known as periodontitis, is the biggest cause of adult tooth loss.

What are the symptoms of periodontitis?

Periodontitis will appear as:

  • Red, or reddish-purple swollen, tender gums
  • Gums that bleed very easily, even with gentle brushing (blood on toothbrush even with gentle brushing of the teeth)
  • Gums that hurt only when touched
  • Gums that have a “shiny look”
  • Gums that have receded from your teeth
  • Continuous bad taste in mouth or bad breath
  • Mouth sores
  • New spaces between teeth
  • Pus between teeth and gums
  • Teeth that are loose or a bite that changes

How can I prevent periodontitis?

Periodontitis is advanced gum disease, which results from untreated gingivitis.  If you have symptoms of gingivitis, contact your dentist for a thorough examination and treatment.  You can reduce the risk of gingivitis greatly by:

  • Brushing and flossing regularly
  • Quitting tobacco use 
  • Making regular dental visits for examination and cleaning

What can my dentist do about periodontitis?

As with a case of gingivitis, your dentist or your dental hygienist will give your teeth a thorough cleaning above and below the gums.  This will usually include a process called scaling, where the dental professional uses instruments to scrape the tartar off teeth below the gum line.  Scaling is followed by a smoothing procedure called planing to make sure there are no rough surfaces to continue irritating the teeth.  Since the infection is more widespread, your dentist may also need to perform surgical procedures to get below the gumline, to graft tissue on the gums, and to rebuild the bone lost to infection.  Your dentist can further describe the procedures and the techniques available for making patients comfortable during the appointments.

Why is it important to treat periodontitis?

Periodontitis is the major cause of adult tooth loss.  Not only are your gums, teeth and the bones of your jaw at risk, but the infection and bacteria from periodontitis can lead to heart disease and stroke, and pregnancy complications.  Inhaling bacteria from your mouth can also cause Pneumonia.   If you have any symptoms of gingivitis and periodontitis, contact your dentist for a thorough examination and treatment. 

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