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Understanding Periodontal Disease

7th May 2018, 11:36am EST

Periodontal disease, or gum disease, refers to the inflammation of gums surrounding your teeth. The condition can damage the soft tissue in the oral cavity thereby, leading to tooth loss. If left untreated, it can also increase your risk of heart disease, stroke and other serious complications. Periodontal disease impacts 47.2% of Americans over the age of 30, as per the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Its incidence increases with age. As a result, 70.1% of adults over the age of 65 years are affected by the condition.


The symptoms of periodontal disease vary depending on the severity of the condition and often include persistent bad breath, swollen gums, bright red or purple gums that are tender touch, receding gums that create new spaces between your teeth, pus between teeth and gums, loose teeth, and bad taste in the mouth.


Bacteria are part of the normal flora of the oral cavity. They combine with the food particles to form a plaque. Regular brushing and flossing helps remove this layer. However, plaque that stays on the teeth for a long time hardens to form tartar. The bacteria in it can cause inflammation of the gums, or gingivitis, which can lead to swollen, red gums that bleed easily. The condition can, however, be reversed with proper dental hygiene. Untreated gingivitis can lead to periodontitis which is characterized by the formation of spaces or pockets between gums and teeth. The bacteria infect these spaces and can often lead to tooth loss.

While poor dental hygiene is the main cause of periodontal disease, other factors such as smoking, diabetes, medications and hormonal changes can also increase your risk.

Diagnosis and Treatment

Your dentist will perform a thorough examination of the oral cavity to look for inflammation. Many professionals use “probes” to find and measure pockets. The dentist may also recommend an x-ray and refer you to a periodontist or a cosmetic dentistry specialist for further care.

Treatment will essentially focus on reducing infection and inflammation. Your periodontist will remove the plaque with the help of a deep-cleaning technique known as scaling or root planning. You may also require some antibiotics for controlling the infection. Patients with a severe form of periodontal disease may undergo a flap surgery or may benefit from bone and tissue grafts.

Periodontal disease affects millions of Americans each year. Regular brushing and flossing can, however, help reduce the risk significantly. Routine dental visits can also lead to early diagnosis and treatment, thereby lowering the risk of unwanted complications.

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