Periodontal (gum) disease is insidious. It is an infection of the gums that starts out as plaque, an opaque film on the teeth that hardens to form tartar. As tartar accumulates, it harbors bacteria that attack the soft tissue around the gums. This is the early stage of gum disease known as Gingivitis. Left untreated, Gingivitis becomes Periodontitis, which ultimately destroys the tissue surrounding your teeth AND the bone that holds your teeth in place. Except for bad breath and gums that bleed, there are very few early warning signals. The disease advances silently, often without pain, and before you know it, you are losing your teeth and you don't know why.
Tooth loss is only the most obvious indicator of gum disease. Scientific research has discovered a link between gum disease and stroke, heart disease, diabetes, and even an increased risk for pregnant women for delivering low birth weight babies or delivering prematurely. When your gums become diseased, your entire immune system is weakened trying to fight off this chronic, low grade bacterial infection.
Your dentist will measure the gum tissue pocket depths around each tooth and evaluate your bone levels supporting the teeth at your dental appointments to ensure you have healthy gum tissues. If periodontal disease is present, your dentist will likely prescribe root planing and scaling, which is cleaning below the gumline into the pocket areas to debride the calculus, bacteria and inflammation that is damaging the gum tissues and bone. Often an ultrasonic scaler is used as well to help debride the pockets. In more severe cases of periodontal disease, your dentist may refer you to a periodontist, a dental specialist who deals specifically with the support of your teeth by focusing on bone and tissue health. Periodontists can offer surgical procedures and treatment to help minimize the damaging effects of periodontal disease.