Periodontal or gum disease is a progressive and widespread condition that affects the gums and other tissues that support the teeth. More than half the adults in the United States suffer from some form of gum disease, and if left untreated, it can increase a person’s risk of diabetes, lung disease, heart disease, osteoporosis and cancer. This is because the bacteria that infect the gums can enter the bloodstream, travel to distant parts of the body and damage them as well.
Periodontal disease happens when a sticky layer of bacteria called plaque develops on the teeth and starts to destroy the gums. If allowed to progress, it will also start to destroy the underlying structures that hold a tooth in place and even the bone. This can lead to the loss of teeth that were otherwise healthy.
Types of Gum Disease and Their Symptoms
Gingivitis is the early stage of gum disease. In gingivitis, plaque inflames the gums and makes them red and swollen. The gums might bleed when a person brushes or flosses, but because the bleeding may be slight and painless, they might overlook it. However, if gingivitis isn’t treated it can lead to periodontitis which is much more severe.
Periodontitis has early, moderate, and advanced stages. In the early stage, tartar (i.e. hardened plaque) is found as far down as the roots of the teeth. This causes pockets to be formed as the gums pull away from the teeth. In the moderate stage, the gums are swollen and easily bleed. The pockets deepen around the tooth and pus may develop. In this stage of the disease, the bacteria start to destroy the bone and supportive tissue. Eventually the pockets can deepen to the point where the roots of the teeth can be seen and the proliferating bacteria cause an infection. It’s at this advanced stage that even healthy teeth can be lost.
Severe cases of gum disease must be treated by a periodontist, but in the early and moderate stages, we can do an effective non-surgical treatment in the office called scaling and root planing. During the procedure, you will be numbed for your comfort, and then Dr. Schuster will remove the plaque and calculus on the crowns of your teeth and the roots below your gumline with a traditional scaling tool or an ultrasonic tool. Then she will place fibers impregnated with antibiotics between the gums and the teeth to help the area heal and guard against infection, and you may need to take some oral antibiotics as well.
Root planing and scaling is very effective, but it’s not for everyone. Before the procedure, we will take a medical history to see if you have any heart conditions, if you’ve had recent surgery, or if you have an autoimmune condition. These conditions might make you ineligible for root planing and scaling.
If your gums bleed when you brush or floss or if you have a family history of gum disease, please call our office to schedule an evaluation. When it’s caught early, gum disease can be healed and reversed to help you have a lifetime of good oral health.