Periodontal disease is the worst! Teeth with tooth decay or nerve problems can be treated with fillings or root canals but periodontal disease causes irreversible damage. Even if the teeth themselves are perfect, they are in danger of being lost if there is insufficient periodontal support. Periodontal disease is a term we use to describe the loss of bone and gums around the teeth. Since bone loss is irreversible, the name of the game is prevention!
What causes periodontal disease?
Periodontal disease is caused by bacteria. However, the loss of bone and gum support is not directly caused by bacteria. There are many types of bacteria found in the oral cavity. Some are actually good. They can actually assist in the pre-digestion of food as well as preventing harmful bacteria from growing out of control. That good bacteria is called normal flora. There is some bacteria that can cause harm. It can bind to teeth and cause tooth decay. It can also form plaque and tartar and cause inflammation to the gums. The inflammatory process is actually the direct cause of periodontal disease! If we can subside the inflammation, the destruction of the gums and bone will stop.
How do we stop the inflammation?
Since the cause of inflammation is bacteria, we have to remove plaque and tartar! Most of the time that is a really simple process. I can usually really easily remove it with a ultrasonic scaler. It’s a great instrument that uses water and vibration to loosen the tartar. It is usually painless and fast. I can usually do a full mouth debridement in about a half hour.
Occasionally, I need to do what is called a scaling and root planing. It is a similar treatment but I will anesthetize the inflamed area and clean deep under the gums to reach every speck of tartar. If I leave even a little bit we might not relieve the inflammation. The scaling and root planing is a little more involved but is a really great treatment when needed.
When the gums don’t respond to those treatments, then we may do a periodontal surgery. This involves retracting the gums and repairing any defects in the bone which are preventing the gums from being healthy. Fortunately, this is not a common treatment but it works wonders in rare cases.
Is periodontal disease contagious?
According to the American Academy of Periodontology, it is. We are often pretty lax about spread of germs within families and loved ones. Things like kissing or sharing glasses or utensils can spread bacteria from one person to another. The bacteria found in someone with active periodontitis can spread to someone with healthy gums and that bacteria can grow and cause inflammation in the previously unaffected individual.
So if one member of the family has signs of periodontal disease (bleeding gums, red inflamed gums) Then it actually benefits the other members of the family if that member goes to the dentist to get the inflammation under control.
Prevention is everything! When I am doing an exam I always evaluate the periodontal condition. Sometimes we will need to see someone with the initial signs of periodontal disease more often to prevent any future damage. The good news is that with proper professional maintenance we can control the damage that would otherwise occur. If you think you are having symptoms of periodontal disease than schedule an appointment for evaluation and then stay on top of your regular dental cleaning!