Periodontal (gum) disease is a major cause of tooth loss in adults. Periodontal diseases include gingivitis and periodontitis. Early and moderate periodontal disease may exhibit few, if any, symptoms. However, warning signs of advanced periodontal disease may include red, swollen, or bleeding gums, persistent bad breath, permanent teeth that are loose or separating, or changes in the way your teeth fit together when you bite.
The word periodontal literally means "around the tooth." Periodontal disease is a chronic bacterial infection that attacks the gums and bone supporting the teeth. It begins when the bacteria in plaque (the sticky, colorless film that constantly forms on your teeth) causing the gums to become inflamed. If plaque is not removed, it turns into calculus (tartar). When plaque and calculus are not removed, they begin to destroy the gums and bone. Periodontal disease is characterized by red, swollen, and bleeding gums. In the mildest form of the disease, gingivitis, the gums redden, swell, and bleed easily. There is usually little or no discomfort. Gingivitis is often caused by inadequate oral hygiene. Gingivitis is reversible with professional treatment and good oral home care.
Untreated gingivitis can advance to periodontitis. With time, plaque can spread and grow below the gum line. Toxins produced by the bacteria in plaque irritate the gums. The toxins stimulate a chronic inflammatory response in which the body in essence turns on itself, and the tissues and bone that support the teeth are broken down and destroyed. Gums separate from the teeth, forming pockets (spaces between the teeth and gums) that become infected. As the disease progresses, the pockets deepen and more gum tissue and bone are destroyed. Often, this destructive process has very mild symptoms. Eventually, teeth can become loose and may have to be removed.
Not only is periodontitis the number one reason for tooth loss, research suggests that there may be a link between periodontal disease and other diseases such as, stroke, bacterial pneumonia, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and increased risk during pregnancy. Researchers are determining if inflammation and bacteria associated with periodontal disease affects these systemic diseases and conditions. Smoking also increases the risk of periodontal disease.
Good oral hygiene, a balanced diet, and regular dental visits can help reduce your risk of developing periodontal disease.