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Periodontal disease, commonly known as gum disease, affects about 30% of the adult population and is the number one cause of tooth loss in adults. Many denture cases begin because of this chronic condition. While not curable, with regular professional hygiene appointments and consistent home care, it is controllable.
Gum disease can advance with few signs or symptoms. Many patients diagnosed with this condition experience no pain and are surprised by the quiet yet swift damage that periodontal disease leaves in its wake. In simple terms, look at your gums and bone around your teeth like the foundation of a house. Just like a house, the foundation must be sound regardless of the beauty of the home. When the foundation crumbles, the rest of it does too.
Regular dental exams, professional cleanings, and good home care practices are essential to detecting and strategically managing periodontitis.
What Causes Gum Disease?
Our mouths provide a home to millions of bacteria, both beneficial and harmful. Bacterial waste forms a sticky substance, called plaque, which adheres to the teeth. Brushing and flossing remove plaque before it mineralizes into tartar. Tartar becomes a colony for more bacteria releasing toxins into the gums.
Thanks to your immune system, gums react to this bacterial invasion with an inflammatory response. Around the base of each tooth, there is a collar of gum tissue that forms a small pocket. This warm, dark environment provides a perfect habitat for tartar and bacteria to infiltrate.
Early inflammation results in bleeding gums, known as gingivitis. Bacteria left untreated and undisturbed create a chronic infection in the periodontal pocket. In many cases, the bone begins to deteriorate around the teeth. While gums may be slightly tender at this stage, there's generally minimal discomfort as the bone begins to erode.
More than 50% of the bone around your teeth can disappear before you notice any signs of looseness or pain. The bone around teeth never regenerates, so this loss becomes permanent and harder to control as the bacteria hide deeper in the gums. In advanced cases, untreated gum disease leads to abscesses and generalized tooth loss.
There are several factors we take into account before we make a gum disease diagnosis. The small collar of gum, or pocket, around each tooth is usually 2-3 millimeters deep, a space that is easily cleaned by floss or toothpicks. Our doctors or our hygiene team can measure and chart these areas using a small measuring device called a periodontal probe. If these measurements are more than 3 millimeters and bleed upon probing, then periodontal disease is present.
The dentist will also evaluate the texture and shape of your gums and detect any movement in each tooth. It's also vital to examine the levels, shape, and density of the bone around your teeth on digital x-rays. By collecting this data, a clear picture forms about your gum condition.