Periodontal disease is caused by a bacterial infection that affects the gums. It is caused by poor dental hygiene, which results in a buildup of plaque, a sticky film that coats your teeth after eating. If bacteria isn't removed by brushing and flossing, it may use sugars to form plaque. Plaque then combines with minerals in saliva to form tartar, a hard substance that covers the teeth.
What are the effects of periodontal disease?
Tartar can form in a period of one day, and can prevent proper cleaning of the teeth.When tartar forms below the gum line, gums can become red and swollen, leading to bleeding gums and bad breath. This is an early stage of periodontal disease called gingivitis. This early form of gum disease can be reversed through cleaning by your dentist and regular brushing and flossing.
If gingivitis is not stopped, gums can start to recede, pulling away from the teeth to form pockets in which bacteria thrive. When the body's immune system begins to fight the bacteria, bone and gum tissue that hold teeth in place are damaged. If left untreated, tooth loss and serious illness are possible. Periodontal disease may also become systemic, spreading throughout the body.
How is periodontal disease treated?
A periodontist is a dentist that specializes in the treatment of periodontal disease among other specific areas of treatment. A periodontist will first attempt to eliminate the bacterial infection by cleaning below the gum line in two ways:
- Scaling, which involves removing plaque from below the gum line. This may be performed using hand scaling tools, or an ultrasonic tool that cause a metal tip to vibrate rapidly and chip away tartar.
- Planing, during which the periodontist cleans the roots of the teeth of tartar buildup, using the same tools as scaling.
Because scaling and planing are relatively intrusive, the periodontist will usually only work on one quadrant of the mouth per visit, so multiple visits are usually required.
If damage to the gum or bone is so severe that tooth loss is imminent, surgery may be required. Gum tissue grafts can be performed using tissue from the palate that is transferred to the affected area. These grafts help to prevent further gum recession and loss of bone.
If the damage is too severe, and tooth loss occurs, periodontists are also trained in dental implants, which are drilled into the jawbone to hold artificial teeth, bridges, or even full dentures.