What Is Gum Disease?
Your teeth are anchored by the surrounding bone and gum. Throughout the day a white slimy material, called plaque, accumulates on your teeth. It is this plaque and the associated bacteria that you are removing from your teeth when you brush and floss. If it is not removed, the plaque will harden and attach itself to the tooth, and it is then called “tartar” or “calculus”. Bacteria like to hide in the plaque and calculus and will start to irritate your gums.
Your gums may appear red in color, inflamed, sensitive, and may even bleed when you brush and floss your teeth. This stage is called gingivitis and is reversible at this stage. Gingivitis is localized to your gums and has not yet affected the surrounding bone. If left untreated, the bacteria in the plaque can start to affect the bone around your teeth at which point the patient is considered to have periodontal disease (periodontitis).
Over time, the bone and gum will recede away from the tooth and root surface. When the surrounding bone is affected, the staging is then called periodontitis. As more plaque, calculus, and the associated bacteria, accumulate, the deeper the affected bone will become. If there is a substantial amount of bone loss and damage to the bone and gum it can lead to loose teeth and eventually tooth loss.
Periodontal disease is similar to high blood pressure or diabetes in that you may not know you have it until you have had a thorough examination. Many times patients do not have any tooth or gum pain and because there is no pain, they often believe that the disease is not that bad. On the contrary, once you have had bone loss around your teeth, it is gone forever. The treatment for periodontal disease is to initially clean your teeth of the plaque and tartar that may have worked its way below the gumline. Doing this will give you a clean and stable environment moving forward to prevent more bone loss from occurring.
Periodontal disease is actually fairly common in the US. According to the CDC, a little over 47% of adults aged 30 years and older have some form of periodontal disease and nearly 70% of adults 65 years and older have periodontal disease.