About periodontal disease
Periodontal disease, commonly known as gum disease, is a condition that involves either inflammation of the gums (known as gingivitis) or more serious gum infection (called periodontitis). In advanced cases it can cause loss of teeth and of the bone structures that support the teeth. Periodontitis may be associated with heart disease, stroke, whole body (systemic) infections and low birth weight in premature babies.
What causes periodontal disease?
Periodontal disease is caused by poor dental hygiene – that is, not brushing your teeth or using dental floss regularly – which allows plaque and tartar to build up and eventually compromise the health of your gum tissue. Poor dental hygiene will almost certainly lead to gingivitis; and for some patients who are susceptible, or “at risk”, it may lead to periodontitis. It is believed that genetics influence whether any one individual will develop severe periodontitis.
Other causes of gum disease include medications (causing overgrowth of gum tissue), chronic medical conditions such as diabetes (which may pose a greater risk of infection or poor gum healing), poor nutrition such as vitamin and mineral deficiencies, and viral or fungal infection. Patients who smoke are also at an increased risk of suffering periodontitis. (There is evidence to suggest that patients who smoke tend to have more severe periodontitis and are less responsive to gum treatment.)
What are the signs and symptoms of gum disease?
You may have periodontal disease if you have receding gums, if your gum tissue is puffy, swollen or painful, if your gums bleed when you brush your teeth, or if you have tooth loss or wobbly teeth, gaps forming between your teeth, sensitivity, pus draining from your gums or bad breath.
How do I prevent gum disease?
To prevent gum disease, you should brush your teeth at least twice a day and use dental floss or the little brushes for cleaning in between your teeth (interdental brushes). If you have gingivitis, the condition is reversible with effective brushing.
Some patients with gingivitis will progress to periodontitis. Periodontitis does not cause symptoms initially, so it is important to have regular dental check-ups to identify its presence. Your dentist should be able to diagnose gum disease or suggest a referral to a gum specialist. If you arrest gum disease in the early stages, you may be able to prevent the early loss of a tooth.
What is the treatment for gum disease?
If you have periodontal disease you may be referred to a gum specialist known as a periodontist. Periodontists are dental specialists who specialise in the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of periodontal disease, and in the placement of dental implants. The treatments offered by a periodontist include deep/extensive cleaning, gum surgery, bone grafts or regeneration of the supporting tissue, and replacement of a lost tooth with a dental implant.
In order to obtain the best outcome from gum treatment, patients should refrain from smoking. Patients with chronic medical problems, especially diabetes should maintain normal blood sugar levels. A healthy diet such as eating fruits and vegetables, especially those containing plenty of calcium, will also contribute to a good prognosis.