Periodontal Disease

Periodontal disease (also known as gum disease) is an infection of the gum and bone that support the teeth. If periodontal disease is not treated, it can get worse and lead to tooth loss. A patient may be unaware of a problem until their gums and supporting bone are damaged.  

Warning signs of gum disease:

  • Gums that bleed when you brush or floss
  • Red, swollen or tender gums
  • Gums that have pulled away from your teeth
  • Bad breath that doesn’t go away
  • Pus between your teeth and gums
  • A change in the way your teeth fit together when you bite
  • A change in the fit of partial dentures

The cause of periodontal disease is a sticky film of bacteria that is always forming on your teeth called plaque.  If teeth are not cleaned well, plaque bacteria can cause your gums to become inflamed.  Inflamed gums can pull away from the teeth, forming spaces called “pockets”. These pockets trap more plaque that cannot be removed with tooth brushing. If the pockets are not treated, the periodontal disease can get worse.  


Fortunately, periodontal disease often can be treated with a deep cleaning called “scaling and root planing”. This procedure involves carefully removing plaque and tartar down to the bottom of each periodontal pocket. The tooth’s root surfaces are also cleaned and smoothed. This allows the gum tissue to heal and reattach to the tooth and is usually done in two appointments.  

At follow-up visits, the dentist or hygienist measures the pocket depths to see if scaling and root planning has been successful. If the periodontal pockets have deepened and the supporting bone is lost, more treatment may be necessary. You may be referred to a periodontist.

How can I prevent periodontal disease?

  • Brush your teeth twice a day with fluoride toothpaste.
  • Floss or use another between-the-teeth cleaner daily to remove plaque and food from areas your toothbrush can’t reach.
  • Your dentist or hygienist may recommend using a mouth rinse or other products.  
  • Eat a healthy diet and limit sugary snacks.
  • Visit your dentist regularly.  If plaque stays on your teeth, it hardens into tartar.  Professional cleanings are the only way to remove tartar, which traps bacteria along the gumline.  

Are you at risk?

  • Poor oral hygiene
  • Tobacco: People who smoke or chew tobacco are more likely to have periodontal disease.
  • Diseases that affect the whole body – such as diabetes – lower resistance to infection and makes a patient at a higher risk for periodontal disease.
  • Medications, such as steroids and blood pressure drugs, can affect your gums. Some have side effects that reduce saliva, which can affect soft tissues and make tooth decay more likely. Tell your dentist about all the medications you take and any changes in your health.
  • Teens, pregnant women and those taking birth control pills face changes in hormone levels.  These changes can cause gums to become more sensitive to plaque bacteria.
  • Genes may play a role. If your parents have a history of tooth loss, be extra alert for changes in your gums.
  • The bacteria that cause periodontal disease may be passed from parents to children and between partners through saliva.


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