The word periodontal literally means “around the tooth.” Healthy gum tissue fits like a cuff around each tooth. Where the gum line meets the tooth, it forms a slight v-shaped crevice called a sulcus. In healthy teeth, this space is usually three millimeters or less.
Periodontal diseases are infections that affect the tissues and bone that support your teeth. As the tissues are damaged, the sulcus develops into a pocket that is greater than three millimeters. Generally, the more severe the disease, the greater the pocket depth and bone loss. The enlarged pockets allow harmful bacteria to grow and make it difficult to practice effective oral hygiene. Left untreated, periodontal diseases may eventually lead to tooth loss.
The mouth is filled with countless bacteria. Periodontal disease begins when certain bacteria in plaque (a sticky, colorless film that constantly forms on the teeth and surfaces lining the mouth) produce toxins and enzymes that irritate the gums and cause inflammation. The resulting inflammation, which may be painless, can damage the attachment of the gums and bone to the tooth.
Good oral hygiene – brushing twice a day and flossing or using another interdental cleaner, once a day – helps reduce the plaque film. Plaque that is not removed regularly can harden into rough porous deposits called calculus, or tartar. Calculus is not the main cause of periodontal diseases, but the pores in calculus hold bacteria and toxins, which are impossible to remove even with regular brushing and flossing. Once this hardened calculus forms, it can only be removed when teeth are cleaned professionally at the dental office.
Unlike tooth decay, which often causes discomfort, it is possible to have periodontal disease without noticeable symptoms. This is why regular dental checkups including periodontal examinations are very important.
Several warning signs can signal a problem. While the periodontal disease may begin slowly for some patients, others may develop a rapidly progressive form of the disease. Schedule an examination appointment if you notice any of the following:
Gums that bleed easily
Red, swollen or tender gums
Gums that have pulled away from the teeth
Persistent bad breath
Pus between your teeth and gums
Loose or separating teeth
A change in the way your teeth fit together when you bite
A change in the fit of partial dentures