Periodontal Disease

Ward Off Periodontal Disease

Chicago - Most people think flashing a pearly white smile is the sign of a healthy mouth. What they may not know is that a silent disease - periodontal disease or gum disease - can rob them of their pearly whites.

Periodontal disease is a chronic bacterial infection that affects not only the gums, but also the bone supporting the teeth. "If left untreated, it destroys the attachment fibers and supporting bone that hold the teeth in the mouth," explained Litvin, DDS, a local periodontist and member of the American Academy of Periodontology. A recent study in the Journal of Periodontology reports that more than one in three people over age 30 have a form of periodontal disease. "Because periodontal disease develops silently and painlessly, most people don't even know they have it, until it becomes advanced," said Litvin.

When the disease is caught in the early stages, it is possible to treat it with a thorough cleaning that may include scaling to remove plaque and calculus below the gum line. Plaque is the main cause of periodontal disease. It is a sticky colorless film that constantly forms on your teeth. If it is not removed by daily brushing and flossing, it hardens into a substance called calculus. Calculus is so hard it can only be removed during a professional cleaning, and when it develops below the gums onto the tooth root, it increases the risk of periodontal disease. The toxins produced by the bacteria in plaque irritate the gums and cause an infection. This infection causes gums to separate from the teeth, forming pockets that will fill with even more plaque and cause more infection. As the disease progresses, more gum tissue and bone are destroyed and the teeth eventually become loose. If periodontal disease is left untreated, the teeth may need to be removed. While plaque is the primary cause of periodontal disease, it is not the only risk factor. Other factors that can affect gum health include: tobacco use, hormonal changes throughout the life span, stress, certain medications, systemic diseases such as diabetes, poor nutrition, and habits such as clenching or grinding your teeth. Although periodontal disease is often silent and painless, there are signs that can point to a problem. If you notice any of these symptoms, it is important to receive a periodontal evaluation:

  • gums that bleed easily such as during brushing or flossing
  • red, swollen or tender gums
  • gums that have pulled away from the teeth
  • persistent bad breath
  • pus between the teeth and gums
  • loose or separating teeth
  • a change in the way your teeth fit together when you bite

Recent research indicates that periodontal disease may play a role in other major health concerns, such as heart disease, diabetes, stroke, respiratory disease and and preterm, low birth weight babies.