Periodontal Disease: What Is It?

Friday May 11, 2012 by
Melissa Brown, DDS

According to the American Academy of Periodontology, nearly 75% of American adults suffer from some form of gum disease. This is why Murray Hill Dental thinks it’s important to share with you the following information on periodontal disease – most commonly referred to as gum disease. In early stages it is simply referred to as gingivitis, but as it advances into its severe form it can lead to bone and tooth loss.

When plaque is not thoroughly removed during brushing or flossing, it deposits along and underneath the gum-lines surrounding the teeth. Our mouth has a natural “pocket” area under the gums around each tooth. The bottom of these pockets is where our attached tissue holds the teeth into the jawbone. Bone, ligaments and gingiva all work together to hold the tooth into the socket.

In about 24 hours this plaque begins to calcify and become tartar or calculus. The bacteria and microorganisms inside of tartar build up cause our body’s immune system to begin attacking this area of infection. The body’s initial response is redness and swelling just along the edge of the gums, which we know as gingivitis. If this bacteria is not removed through proper oral hygiene or a professional dental cleaning, it causes the tartar to multiply and creep its way deeper underneath the gums which is why we take this job seriously!

Unfortunately, as tartar deposits creep lower, they also cause the attached tissue (gums, bone, etc.) to detach from the tooth. This allows the body’s blood supply to reach the source of the infection, in an attempt to let the immune system destroy the bacteria. Unfortunately, it permanently destroys the connective levels and when it becomes severe it will cause tooth mobility, or tooth loss.

Studies have shown that numerous systemic health conditions such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease and premature births are more likely in individuals with gum disease. The strain that is placed on the body’s immune system makes it more difficult to fight one area of infection when it has numerous conditions that it is already trying to manage.

The number one reason that people lose teeth isn’t because of cavities or trauma, it is because of periodontal disease. But thankfully this condition can be treated and reversed. Prevention begins at home with dedicated oral hygiene. Using an electric toothbrush such as a Sonicare can remove more plaque from the teeth as it delivers thousands of times the brush strokes that we ever get using a manual brush. Wrapping floss snuggly around a tooth and sliding it above and below the gumlines helps to reach the plaque missed by brushing. Recent reports show that using a Waterpik can be even more efficient than flossing because its steady stream of water reaches further down than floss, as well removing bacteria from concave areas on the root of teeth.

What normal oral hygiene can’t do is remove plaque more than a few millimeters below the gum, or has already calcified into tartar. Normal preventative cleanings with our hygienists help maintain these areas. However, if it’s been years since your last cleaning or you have a history of gum disease, you might need what is referred to as a deep cleaning. During a deep cleaning we use a topical or locally delivered anesthetic to numb ½ of your mouth at a time. This allows our hygienists to keep you comfortable while they use special instruments to remove the tartar deep below the surface of the gums. We will also perform a periodontal screening which allows us to track the level of attachment around your teeth so that it can be closely monitored at future visits. With dedicated oral hygiene and routine preventative care visits at Murray Hill, periodontal disease infections can be reversed and in some cases a level of attachment may come back around the tooth.