Gum disease is an inflammation of the gum that can progress to affect the bone that surrounds and supports your teeth. The three stages of gum disease — from least to most severe — are gingivitis, periodontitis and advanced periodontitis.
Signs & Symptoms
Gum disease can be painless, so it is important to be aware of any of the following symptoms:
- Gums that bleed easily when brushing or flossing
- Swollen, red or tender gums
- Gums that recede or move away from the tooth
- Persistent bad breath or bad taste in your mouth
- Loose teeth
- A change in the way your teeth come together
- A change in the fit of partial dentures
- Visible pus around the teeth and gums
Bacteria in plaque, a sticky, white film that constantly forms on your teeth, cause gum disease. If plaque is not removed it can harden and turn into tartar (calculus). Additionally, dental plaque will continue to form on the tartar. Brushing or flossing cannot remove tartar; a dental practitioner will need to conduct a dental cleaning to remove it.
If not removed through daily brushing and flossing, plaque turns into tartar, which becomes a rough and retentive surface encouraging further buildup of plaque. The plaque bacteria can cause gum inflammation and eventually, the gum tissue and the bone that support the teeth can be affected. There are three stages of gum disease:
Gingivitis - This is the earliest stage of gum disease. It is the inflammation of the gums, caused by dental plaque buildup at the gum line. You may notice some redness or swelling of the gums, or some bleeding during brushing and flossing. At this early stage gum disease can be reversed since the bone and connective tissue that hold the teeth in place are not yet affected.
Periodontitis - At this stage, the supporting bone and fibers that hold the teeth in place are irreversibly damaged. A pocket below the gum line forms, which encourages growth of plaque in this area. Professional periodontal therapy and improved personal oral hygiene can usually help prevent further damage to the gum tissue supporting tissue and bone.
Advanced Periodontitis - In this more advanced stage of gum disease, the fibers and bone that support your teeth have largely been destroyed, which can cause your teeth to shift or loosen. This can affect your bite and how you eat and communicate. If aggressive periodontal therapy can’t save them, teeth may need to be removed by a dentist. Your dentist will also provide restorative options if teeth are removed due to periodontal disease.
Proper brushing and flossing go a long way toward keeping gum disease at bay. Using an antibacterial toothpaste or mouth rinse can kill bacteria and lessen the amount of plaque in your mouth. Removing dental plaque is the key to preventing gum disease and improving mouth health.
A professional cleaning by your dental practitioner is the only way to remove plaque that has built up and hardened into tartar. By scheduling regular checkups — twice a year — early stage gum disease can be treated before it leads to a much more serious condition.
If gum disease is more advanced, scaling and root planning can be performed to treat diseased periodontal pockets and gum infection Dental practitioners may use an ultrasonic scaling device to remove plaque, tartar and food debris above and below the gum line, and hand scalers on the tooth and root surfaces to make them smooth.. If periodontal pockets are more than 5 millimeters deep, that is, if you have moderate to severe periodontitis, gingival flap surgery may be performed by a periodontist to reduce periodontal pockets, remove deposits from root surfaces, and perhaps provide bone grafting to restore lost bone.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), researchers have discovered potential associations between gum disease and other serious health conditions. If you have diabetes, for example, you are at higher risk of developing periodontal disease. The CDC reports that periodontal disease may be connected to diseases elsewhere in the body. Recent published research studies suggest an association with conditions such as diabetes, as mentioned above, but also heart disease and stroke. Further research is being conducted to examine these connections.1