Periodontal disease, also known as gum disease, is a progressive infection of the gums caused by bacteria in plaque. It begins with inflammation of the gums and can progress to damage of the gums, jawbone, and ligaments that support the teeth. According to the CDC, 47.2% of adults over 30 and 70.1% of those over 70 have some form of gum disease.
Common symptoms include redness, swelling, bleeding, receding gums, bad breath, and loose or shifting teeth. Risk factors include poor oral hygiene, smoking, certain medical conditions, and genetics.
Stages of Periodontal Disease
Periodontal disease typically progresses through several stages, beginning with a mild and common form of gum disease called gingivitis. If left untreated, gingivitis can progress to periodontitis.
This is the earliest stage of periodontal disease. It is characterized by inflammation of the gums, which may be red, swollen, and bleed easily, especially when brushing and flossing. You may also have bad breath or a metallic taste in your mouth. Gingivitis is reversible with a good oral hygiene routine and regular professional cleaning.
At this stage, the disease has progressed beyond the gums and affects the bone and ligaments that support the teeth. The gums may pull away from the teeth forming pockets that trap bacteria leading to an infection. Treatment typically includes more frequent professional cleanings and topical or oral medications to reduce inflammation and kill bacteria.
By this stage, the disease has caused damage to the supporting structures of the teeth. The gums may recede further, and the teeth may become loose. Treatment includes a scale and root planing to remove plaque and bacteria below the gum line and reshape the damaged bone.
At this stage, the disease has caused severe destruction of the supporting structures of the teeth. Your dentist may try to save your smile with gum flap surgery or gum and bone grafting, but if the damage is too severe, your dentist will extract teeth in the infected areas.
Who Can Get Periodontal Disease?
Anyone can get periodontal disease, but some people are at a higher risk than others. Risk factors for periodontal disease include:
- Poor oral hygiene: Plaque and tartar buildup on the teeth can lead to infection of the gums and supporting structures of the teeth.
- Smoking and using other tobacco products: These increase the risk of developing periodontal disease and make it more difficult to treat.
- Certain medical conditions: People with diabetes, heart disease, or respiratory disease are at a higher risk of developing periodontal disease.
- Genetics: Some people may be more susceptible to periodontal disease due to inherited factors.
- Hormonal changes: Hormonal changes during puberty, pregnancy, or menopause can make gums more sensitive and susceptible to inflammation.
- Poor nutrition: A diet low in vitamins and minerals may contribute to gum disease.
- Age: As people get older, they are more likely to develop periodontal disease due to medication use and dry mouth.
When to See a Dentist
To prevent gum disease, you should practice good oral hygiene at home and visit your dentist every six months or as recommended for professional cleanings. However, if you notice sensitivity or bleeding when you brush and floss or bite down on hard foods, you may be experiencing the first signs of gingivitis.
Contact us to schedule a dental exam and protect your dental health. The sooner you see our dental team, the higher your chances are of reversing the early stages of gum disease and safeguarding your smile.