Receiving a diagnosis of periodontitis is a serious wake-up call regarding the state of your oral hygiene and overall health. A severe form of periodontal gum disease, periodontitis often leads to the destruction of the soft tissue and bone that hold your teeth in place. Tooth loss is only one of the problems associated with untreated periodontitis. Advanced periodontitis can contribute to a host of conditions, including coronary disease, stroke and respiratory problems. What's especially troubling is that periodontitis is largely preventable.
Periodontitis is a progressive disease that occurs when an inflammation of the gums spreads below the gumline to the sulcus, the v-shaped groove between the tooth and gums. Over time, the infection begins destroying the underlying tissues, ligaments and bones that support your teeth. Since periodontitis is caused by same microorganisms that lead to the development of dental plaque and tartar (calculus), good oral hygiene is highly effective at controlling this very common condition.
Periodontitis Risk Factors
In addition to the cumulative effects of poor oral health habits, common periodontitis precursors include:
- Poor nutrition
- Tobacco use
- Family history
- Substance abuse
- Age (i.e. being over 35)
- Ill-fitting dental restorations
- Prescription medications which reduce saliva production
- Hormonal changes related to pregnancy and menopause
- Weakened immunity due to conditions like leukemia and HIV/AIDS
The Three Stages of Periodontitis
Relatively easy to treat during its initial stages, periodontitis can quickly develop into a major health problem if its warning signs are ignored.
Early Periodontitis - Bright red or bleeding gums and sensitivity to hot and cold foods are symptoms of early periodontitis. Other indicators of periodontitis include persistent bad breath, loose teeth or gums and changes in your bite or in the fit of dentures or dental bridges. If you're experiencing these symptoms, it's important to see your dentist before early periodontitis becomes more serious and less treatable.
Moderate Periodontitis - Moderate periodontitis is the stage when irreversible damage begins to the periodontal ligaments holding teeth in their sockets. Gingival recession becomes visible, as does the formation of pockets and spaces between teeth and gums. These pockets trap food; which encourages the growth of tissue and bone destroying microorganisms.
Advanced Periodontitis - The stakes become significantly higher once the disease progresses to the point that it can be classified as advanced periodontitis. Symptoms include severely receding gums, puss-filled pockets between the teeth and significantly increased sensitivity to heat and cold. Intense gum tenderness may further aggravate the condition by discouraging all tooth brushing and flossing. Bone loss, loose teeth and eventual tooth loss generally accompany untreated advanced periodontitis.
Non-Surgical Periodontitis Treatment
Early-stage and moderate periodontitis are relatively easy to treat with improved personal oral hygiene and a good dental cleaning by your dentist DDS, DMD or dental hygienist. Other non-surgical periodontitis treatment options include:
Scaling -- The scaling procedure requires a special instrument to remove the tartar and bacteria from tooth surfaces and below the gumline.
Root Planing -- During this procedure, the root surfaces of teeth are smoothed down to prevent the build up of tartar.
Antibiotics -- Many dentists and periodontists are using topical and oral antibiotics to control the infection responsible for periodontitis.
Surgical Periodontitis Treatment
Advanced periodontitis is a significantly more serious dental problem requiring the specialized skills of a periodontist or oral surgeon. Frequently performed surgical periodontitis treatment options include:
Pocket Reduction Procedure -- Also known as flap surgery, this periodontitis treatment involves making tiny incisions in the gum so that a section of tissue can be lifted back to expose the roots. This enables more effective scaling and planning, and, if necessary, recontouring of the bone. The gum tissue is then sutured back in place.
Soft Tissue Graft -- Receding gum tissue caused by periodontitis makes teeth appear abnormally long. This procedure corrects the condition by grafting a small amount of palate tissue to the affected area. This will both improve the gum's appearance and reduce further recession.
Bone Graft -- This periodontitis treatment is used when the bone surrounding a tooth's root has been destroyed. A graft consisting of small fragments of synthetic or donated bone is made to hold a tooth in place and to create a platform for new bone growth.
Crown Lengthening -- Typically a procedure to correct "gummy smiles," crown lengthening involves the removal of gum tissue, bone or both to expose more of a tooth's structure. It is sometimes used as a periodontitis treatment to reduce oral infections related to the irritation caused by ill-fitting dental restorations.
Worried That You May Have Periodontitis?
If you suspect that you have early, moderate or advanced periodontitis, don't waste time guessing -- talk to your dentist.