Of the three ways you can lose teeth, periodontal disease – also referred to gum disease or gum and bone disease – causes the most tooth loss in adults. Periodontal disease is a silent disease until it reaches advances stages, so without a routine dental exam, you could have it but not know it. Of the half of adult’s that don’t go to the dentist regularly, 80% have serious periodontal disease by age 40.
The word “periodontal” describes the structures around that tooth that give it support – the gingival (gums), the bone, and the fibers in-between. Signs that show you may have periodontal disease include:
First, let’s take a look at the stages of periodontal disease.
This first photo shows an example of healthy gums. The gingival is light pink and flat, and the diagram shows the bone in-between teeth with proper support.
Gingivitis is the first stage periodontal disease. Shown in the next photo, gingivitis is a completely reversible disease. The gums are red and swollen, but there is no damage to the bone support.
In this third photo, an early stage of periodontitis is shown. You can see the gums pulling away from the teeth as they are losing their bone support. The teeth are sometimes more sensitive where the roots are partially exposed, but often there are no symptoms even at this stage of the disease.
Symptoms usually don’t develop until severe bone involvement, so shown here, when the teeth become loose and sore. By this time, it’s often too late to save the involved teeth.
To check the health of your gums, your dentist gently slides a measuring probe under your gums. Measurements are made several places around each tooth to show where the gums attach to your tooth, and if there is any bleeding or pus present. If the periodontal support around your tooth is in good shape, the farthest that the probe should be able to measure is 3 mm, or 1/8 inch. This is the farthest that a toothbrush and floss can clean under the gums adequately. A measurement of 4mm or greater demonstrates evidence of periodontal disease. Dentists refer to these areas as “periodontal pockets.” Other signs of periodontal disease include bleeding gums and receding gums.
The actual cause of periodontal disease is bacteria that live in these periodontal pockets. In areas this far below the gums, a breeding ground develops for particular types of bacteria called anaerobes, a type of bacteria that thrives where there is no oxygen. These bacteria release toxins that slowly cause destruction of the bone and periodontal fibers that support your teeth.
Periodontal disease can be treated if it is caught early enough. Much like a patient with high blood pressure, a patient with periodontal disease cannot be completely “healed” from the damage that has already been caused, but the disease can be controlled so that further damage doesn’t occur. Treatment for periodontal disease will be covered next week.
If you’re concerned you may have periodontal disease, why not call us today to schedule an examination. Click here to learn about a special offer for our web readers. You can reach us at Flemingsburg Dental Care at 888-733-3163
Dr. Moorhead and his team write about dental news, and answer patient questions.