"Periodontal" comes from two Greek words that mean "around the tooth." Periodontal diseases are caused by bacterial infections that attack gums, ligaments and bone. There are several kinds of periodontal disease. Often painless, these diseases may develop slowly or progress quite rapidly; and they can occur at any age. Unless you have regular dental checkups, including a periodontal exam, you may not be aware you have a problem until your gums and bone have been seriously compromised.
At the very edge of the gumline, the gum tissue is not attached to the tooth. Instead, there is a shallow, v-shaped groove called the sulcus between the tooth and gum. The normal space between teeth and healthy gums should be three millimeters or less. With periodontal disease, this tiny space develops into a pocket. Generally, the more severe the disease, the greater the depth of the pockets.
Gingivitis is a mild, often reversible form of periodontal disease. It develops as toxins in plaque irritate the gums, making them red, tender, swollen and likely to bleed easily. It can usually be eliminated by thorough daily brushing, cleaning between teeth with floss or toothpicks, and regular dental cleanings and checkups.
Gingivitis may lead to the more serious and destructive periodontitis. This occurs when toxins destroy the tissue fibers that anchor teeth into bone. The gums detach from the teeth and form pockets. As the disease progresses, the pockets grow deeper. Plaque moves further down the roots of the teeth. Bone that supports the teeth is permanently damaged. Exposed tooth roots become susceptible to decay and may be sensitive to cold and touch. Calculus or tartar forms below the gumline and inhibits the reattachment of gum tissue to the teeth.
In some cases, so much ligament and bone are destroyed that the tooth becomes loose. It may eventually fall out or require extraction.
Warning Signs of Periodontal Disease
If you notice any of the following signs, see your dentist immediately:
It is also possible to have periodontal disease and not have warning signs. That's why regular dental checkups and periodontal examinations are important.
Diagnosis of Periodontal Diseases
The dentist or dental hygienist will inspect the color and firmness of the gums and test the teeth for looseness. He or she will also check the way your teeth fit together when you bite. An instrument called a periodontal probe is used to gently measure the pocket space between each tooth and gum. A pocket size of three millimeters is considered normal unless gum recession is present. Generally the more severe the disease, the greater the pocket depth.
Dental x-rays help to evaluate the bone supporting the teeth and to detect other problems not visible during the clinical examination. Dr. Layport uses digital radiography, which dramatically lowers radiation dosage and eliminates the hazardous chemicals used to develop the x-ray films. The x-ray images can be easily magnified and copied.