Gum disease, also known as periodontitis, is a serious infection of the gums and bone. It’s caused by bacteria that have been allowed to accumulate on your teeth and gums. As periodontitis progresses, your bones and teeth can be damaged. The good news is that if periodontitis is treated early and proper oral hygiene is maintained, the damage can be stopped. Think you need periodontal treatment? It’s important you see an MCDC dentist ASAP.
Symptoms of Periodontitis
Periodontitis begins with inflammation of the gums, also known as gingivitis. One of the first signs of gingivitis is that your gums bleed when you brush or floss your teeth. Additional symptoms depend on the stage of periodontal disease, but generally include:
- Bad breath
- Changes in the position of your teeth or loose teeth
- Receding gums
- Red, tender, or swollen gums
- Buildup of plaque or tartar on your teeth
- Pain when chewing
- Tooth loss
- Foul taste in your mouth
- Inflammatory response throughout your body
Symptoms in the early stages of periodontitis are often not very noticeable. Your MCDC dentist will likely be the first person to point them out.
Gum disease should be treated as soon as possible because it’s linked to increased risk factors for conditions like:
- Heart disease
- Respiratory disease
- Preterm birth
How is Periodontal Disease Diagnosed?
Here is how periodontal disease is diagnosed by your MCDC dentist.
- Your medical history will be reviewed to identify any factors that could contribute to your symptoms, such as smoking or taking certain medications that cause dry mouth.
- Your mouth will be examined for plaque and tartar buildup, and checked for easy bleeding.
- The pocket depth of your gums will be measured. Measurements are taken by placing a dental probe beside your tooth beneath your gum line, usually at multiple points throughout your mouth. In a healthy mouth, the pocket depth is usually between 1 and 3 millimeters (mm). Pockets deeper than 4 mm may indicate gingivitis and periodontitis. For more on pockets, see our Dental Cleaning & Exam page.
- Dental X-rays are taken to check for bone loss in areas where your MCDC dentist finds deeper pocket depths.
Periodontal Disease FAQs
Periodontitis can be stopped if caught and treated early. Treatment is typically very successful and may be performed by your MCDC dentist or a dental hygienist. The goal of periodontitis treatment is to thoroughly clean the pockets around teeth and prevent damage to the surrounding bone.
- Scaling and Root Planing: Scaling is a special cleaning of the teeth above and below the gum line to remove plaque and tarter, especially from those deep periodontal pockets. Depending on your needs a special ultrasonic instrument may be used to assist in this procedure. Root planing smooths the surface of the root to prevent plaque, tartar, and bacteria from adhering to it. We often refer to this procedure simply as SRP. Learn more about scaling and root planing on our Dental Exam & Cleaning page.
- Antibiotics: Topical or oral medications, including a mouth rinse or oral gel, can help control the bacterial infection.
Note that it is common for your teeth and gums to feel tender for a few days following a scaling and root planing procedure. That being said, immediately contact your MCDC location if you experience the following:
- Worsening pain
- A fever
- Swelling in your mouth
- You don’t seem to be healing
After a non-surgical periodontal treatment, your MCDC dentist will schedule a follow up with you in a few weeks, and then about every three to six months after that to assess your progress. If the periodontal pockets are not shrinking, they may recommend surgical treatment to prevent tooth and bone loss. At that point, your MCDC dentist may refer you to a
periodontist, which is a dentist who specializes in treating gum disease.
If surgery is necessary to treat periodontitis, there are several options. Your MCDC dentist or your periodontist will make a recommendation based on your circumstances.
- Flap surgery: Tiny incisions are made in your gum so that a section of gum tissue can be lifted back, exposing the roots for more effective scaling and root planing. Because periodontitis often causes bone loss, the underlying bone may be recontoured before the gum tissue is sutured back in place. This makes cleaning these areas easier and helps
maintain healthy gum tissue.
- Soft tissue grafts: When you lose gum tissue, your gum line shrinks. You may need to have some of the soft tissue strengthened or reinforced. This is usually done by removing a small amount of tissue from the roof of your mouth or using tissue from another source and attaching it to the affected area. A soft tissue graft can help reduce further gum loss and cover unprotected roots to keep you smiling!
- Bone grafting: This procedure is performed when periodontitis has destroyed the bone surrounding the root of your tooth. The graft may be composed of small fragments of your own bone, or the bone may be artificial or donated. The bone graft helps prevent tooth loss by holding your tooth in place. It also helps with regrowth of your natural bone.
Before scheduling for surgical periodontal treatment, your MCDC dentist will go over the following with you:
- Review the findings from your medical history and oral exam.
- Check the teeth, mouth, and jaw for stability and health.
- Look for any infections, abscesses, or other lesions that could make healing from surgery more complicated.
- Discuss the risks and benefits of the operation, and receive permission or consent to move forward with the surgery.
If gum disease is addressed before it becomes severe, scaling and root planing may be the only treatment you need. However, as with any dental procedure, after care is vital. To keep your teeth in good shape and avoid gum disease in the future, you must:
- Brush and floss twice a day
- Eat a healthy diet
- Avoid tobacco use
- Have a dental checkup and exam at every 6 months (or more frequently if recommended by your MCDC dentist)
Even after a successful scaling and root planing, without proper oral hygiene, it’s likely you’ll develop gum disease again.