Periodontal Disease

What periodontal disease means for your mouth

Periodontal disease, or gum disease as it is more commonly known, is the natural enemy of a healthy mouth.

Swollen and bleeding gums, along with less-than-fragrant breath are normally the first signs of its presence but it can come in many guises.

According to the Australian Health Ministers’ Advisory Council, it is the fifth most prevalent health problem among Australians and is responsible for about 90 percent of all tooth loss.

However in addition to being one of the most common oral illnesses, I believe it is also one of the most misunderstood.

What causes periodontal disease?

Although bacterial plaque buildup is the main cause of periodontal disease, several other factors, including other diseases, some medications, substandard oral habits or a poor diet, also can contribute.

Put simply, the disease occurs when the areas supporting the tooth—for example the periodontal ligament, the gums or the bone—become infected.

The battle in your body

To eliminate the bacteria, which it identifies as a foreign presence, the cells of your immune system release substances that cause inflammation and destruction of the gums. When there is a swelling of the gum around the tooth, it causes the gum to detach, allowing plaque and bacteria to enter the space and make their way down towards the bone and ligament.

Once this occurs one of two things usually happens. Either you get a deep pocket forming around the neck of the tooth, or you get the other extreme where the gum recedes down and exposes the root. When this process occurs, bone deterioration usually follows.

In its earliest form swollen, bleeding gums are often referred to as gingivitis while loosening of the teeth is a sign of severe periodontitis, which is the advanced stage of disease.

How is periodontal disease treated?

Another common area of confusion for people that have been diagnosed with gum disease is the mistaken belief that they can keep their teeth clean themselves. But because there are so many areas with these pockets that are inaccessible with a normal toothbrush, this is rarely, if ever, the case.

If plaque is allowed to build up on teeth, over time it becomes hardened and turns into tartar, which in turn attracts more plaque. Using a tartar-control toothpaste may help slow accumulation of calculus around your teeth, but it can’t affect the tartar that has already formed below the gum line.

And that’s where we come in.

How to guard against gum disease

Regular maintenance can help where regular visits to your dentist, combined with good oral hygiene, can prevent periodontal disease.

For most people this will mean six month appointments are suffice, while for those with gum disease four monthly visits help to keep the surface as clean as possible and should result in less inflammation.

Dental professionals worth their salt can ensure your teeth can be saved—even with very small amount of bone left—providing it is healthy. However left untreated for too long and tooth loss is the inevitable result.