Gum disease is caused by plaque, a sticky film that contains bacteria that also promotes tooth decay. When plaque gets into the space between the tooth and the gums, the bacteria in it causes red, swollen and bleeding gums. Untreated, the bone around the tooth can eventually erode, causing loose teeth, changes in your bite, and eventual tooth loss.
Gingivitis is characterized by red, swollen gums that bleed during probing and flossing. It is caused by the presence of plaque and calculus under the gum line. A thorough professional cleaning followed by conscientious home care usually causes gingivitis to subside within a few days. Untreated gingivitis burdens the immune system and can turn into periodontitis.
Periodontitis, the leading cause of tooth loss, is a condition where gum separates from the tooth and the surrounding bone starts to pull back from the irritants in the plaque. Untreated periodontitis can result in loose teeth with exposed roots. Besides causing eventual tooth loss, periodontitis affects patients’ overall health, particularly those who are pregnant or have diabetes.
The pockets, or space between the gums and the teeth, are carefully measured around each tooth. Pockets that are deeper than 3 millimeters indicate the presence of gum disease. The prognosis is improved with early detection and treatment.
A hygienist cleans the teeth under the gums in a procedure called scaling and root planing. This type of cleaning usually takes several appointments, cleaning one section of the mouth at a time. Most patients are numbed, and the hygienist carefully makes sure that all calculus below the gums is removed. Once the calculus has been removed, most patients require periodontal maintenance, which means they will need frequent cleanings to prevent the calculus from returning. Once you have been diagnosed with periodontal disease, the maintenance procedures along with meticulous home care will be a life long process to control the disease—which is why early prevention and treatment are so important.