Periodontal Disease—A Common but Serious Oral Health Condition

Periodontal disease, also known as gum disease, is a blanket term used to describe diseases associated with the gums. Gum disease can range from inflammation, known as gingivitis, to an advanced disease known as periodontitis.

If you’ve recently been diagnosed with gum disease, you’re not alone. According to the CDC, approximately half of American adults 30 years of age and older have periodontitis. Other dental health authorities estimate that close to 80% of American adults have some form of gum disease, which includes all forms, like gingivitis and periodontitis.

Periodontal disease is a frequently diagnosed condition, but it demands reactive treatment and a proactive at-home gum care regimen to prevent the condition from worsening.

Gum inflammation, known as gingivitis, precedes periodontitis.

Gum inflammation can occur due to irritation from untreated tooth decay or something as simple as a stuck piece of food debris, but when chronic inflammation is present, it’s known as gingivitis.

Generally speaking, all forms of gum disease are inflammatory in nature, and the vast majority of cases begin as gingivitis. This means that while gingivitis may seem mild in comparison to periodontitis, it must be treated every bit as seriously in order to prevent the condition from exacerbating.

What causes gingivitis?

Gingivitis is the result of your body trying to fight against bad bacteria present in the gums and around the teeth. The reaction occurs when too much plaque builds up on the teeth, eventually causing irritation and inflammation of the gums.

Plaque and tartar buildup from poor hygiene is the primary cause of gingivitis. Other risk factors that can make an individual more likely to experience gingivitis include smoking, systemic diseases, medications, and even genetics.

What are the symptoms of gingivitis?

There are three common symptoms of gingivitis:

  • Puffy red gums, particularly on the edge around the teeth
  • Bleeding during or after brushing or flossing
  • Bad breath despite regular brushing

Your dentist will be able to easily tell if you have gingivitis if you’re presenting these symptoms. Your dentist or hygienist may also measure the pockets around your teeth to check for depth. Deep pockets are another telltale sign of inflammation.

Mild to moderate gingivitis isn’t usually painful, which explains why many don’t realize they have it. Once pain and general sensitivity present themselves, it means the gingivitis is severe and is beginning to advance to periodontitis.

How is gingivitis treated?

Gingivitis is a treatable condition and is “non-destructive” in nature, meaning permanent damage to the gums, teeth, and surrounding bone don’t occur.

Treatment includes a thorough dental cleaning in which all plaque and tartar will be removed from the teeth. Your dentist may recommend you come in more frequently for cleanings to take care of any trouble spots that could be linked to plaque buildup, such as a poorly fitting crown. You’ll also be advised on proper at-home care, which may include a special toothbrush or toothpaste and an antiseptic mouth rinse.

When a gingivitis treatment plan isn’t followed and the inflammation turns into an infection, the condition has advanced to periodontitis.

Untreated gingivitis will eventually turn into active periodontitis.

When inflammation of the gums finally gives way to a bacterial infection, active periodontitis occurs. Active periodontitis refers to cases of periodontitis where an infection is present and attacks the gum tissues and bone structure surrounding the tooth.

Periodontitis is a very serious condition and will lead to irreversible damage to the gums, teeth, and bones when treatment isn’t followed. Periodontitis is actually the most common cause of tooth loss in adults and is strongly linked to a number of other diseases, such as heart disease. Your oral health is directly linked to your overall health, which explains why an untreated oral infection can be so detrimental to your general well-being.

What causes periodontitis?

Active periodontitis is nearly always directly caused by untreated gingivitis, whether the gingivitis was because of poor oral health, a systemic disease, or otherwise. Cases of active periodontitis without preceding cases of gingivitis are rare.

The same risk factors of gingivitis are attributed to the development of periodontitis. Those at risk of gingivitis will likely develop periodontitis quicker than an individual who is otherwise healthy and doesn’t smoke. Pregnant women and the elderly tend to be more susceptible to developing periodontitis, as well, due to a stressed immune system and potential nutritional deficiencies.

What are the symptoms of periodontitis?

Symptoms of periodontitis are similar to gingivitis but more severe.

Common signs include:

  • Gum sensitivity ranging from tender to quite painful
  • Gums appearing very swollen and bright red to purple
  • Very bad breath with dry mouth
  • Pain during brushing, flossing, and eating
  • Sensitive teeth that are loose within their socket
  • Receding gumline and gaps appearing between teeth

In the case of advanced active periodontitis, abscesses may form and pus can become visible when the gums are pressed. Bleeding is also common and may occur even without brushing or flossing.

How is periodontitis treated?

Treatment of periodontitis focuses first on getting the infection under control. An in-depth cleaning will be done to remove plaque from the teeth and under the gumline. Once the plaque is removed, your gums and surrounding tissues will be treated to remove the bacteria and infection. This process is repeated every one to two weeks until no signs of bacteria or infection are present. For stubborn infections, you may need an antibiotic injection placed under the gums or surgery.

If treatment is successful and the bacteria is under control, active periodontitis is referred to as “stable periodontitis.” This means the aftereffects of periodontitis are still present, but the infection is no longer active. If severe damage has already occurred to the gums, teeth, and bone, your dentist will offer a consultation on what restorative and/or cosmetic services can be best utilized to bring back your smile.

Let our dentists help you recover from gum disease.

Conveniently located in downtown Chicago near Millennium Park, Drs. Barr and Diachenko are ready to help you recover from your gum disease. They can offer assistance with diagnosis, periodontal therapy and treatment, and smile restoration thanks to a complete menu of cosmetic dentistry services.

When gum disease or inflammation is present, there’s no time to waste when seeking treatment. You can make an appointment with us today by giving us a call or using our easy online appointment request form.