The word "periodontal" literally means "around the tooth". Periodontal disease (also known as "gum disease", "pyorrhea" or "periodontal infection") is an ongoing bacterial infection in the gums and bone around your teeth. This infection leads to inflammation under the gums, and if not treated, this inflammation can destroy the bone around your teeth. This results in tooth loss. 75% of all adult tooth loss is due to periodontal infection.

More importantly, research has associated periodontal infection with several serious medical problems, including heart disease, diabetes and stroke (see the "The Consequences of Periodontal Disease" section).  As ongoing research continues to define how periodontal disease is associated with these and other health problems, oral health maintenance is essential. Periodontal health is a key component to a healthy body.

What is an "Ongoing Infection"?

Have you ever gotten a sliver of wood caught under the skin of your hand? Because the wound is open to bacteria, the site may become infected and appear red and inflamed. With removal of the sliver, your immune system fights off the bacteria and your hand heals.

During an ongoing infection, however, your immune system is unable to conquer the bacteria on its own.  The inflammation and redness continue to worsen.

Periodontal disease is a chronic or ongoing infection in the pockets around your teeth.   You cannot fight off the infection alone, but with periodontal therapy, we are able to remove  soft and hard bacterial deposits from the site, allowing the gum to heal as your hand had.

What Can Cause a "Burst" of Disease Activity?

People with periodontal disease have low resistance to periodontal bacteria. This causes an ongoing gum infection that grows in "bursts" of activity. Each time it grows, more support for your teeth is lost. Some factors that can cause a "burst" of activity are:

  1. Inadequate oral hygiene
  2. Dental plaque and calculus or "tartar"
  3. Smoking
  4. Genetic factors
  5. Stress or tension
  6. Diabetes
  7. Pregnancy
  8. Certain medical conditions and medications 

Getting Periodontal Infection Treated Right Away

When your infection has had a burst of activity, or when there are signs that this is about to occur, your general dentist may recommend you see a periodontist.

Symptoms of Periodontal Infection

Periodontal infection is usually painless unless it reaches an acute stage. However, there are some symptoms which can indicate the presence of periodontal infection.

These include:

  1. Red or swollen gums
  2. Bleeding when brushing (pink toothbrush), or at other times
  3. Aching, itchy, sore or tender gums
  4. Receding gums (teeth beginning to look longer)
  5. Pus between your teeth and gums when you press down on the gums
  6. Bad breath
  7. Any change in the way your teeth fit together when you bite
  8. Any change in the fit of partial dentures
  9. Loose, separating or protruding teeth
  10. Spaces between teeth

If you notice any of the above warning signs of periodontal infection, please contact your general dentist and ask for a periodontal evaluation.

Important Note: Your gums can look and feel quite normal and yet deep pockets of periodontal infection can still be present. To be certain about any periodontal disease, a detailed probing examination is usually necessary. 

What does a Periodontist do?

Periodontics is one of nine dental specialties recognized by the American Dental Association.  This surgical specialty deals with prevention, diagnosis and treatment of disorders of the soft tissue and bone around teeth and dental implants. It includes oral plastic surgery, tissue regeneration, and placement of dental implants as well as treatment of oral and Periodontal diseases. Although most of our patients are adults, we also treat children with these problems. In order to announce Limitation of Practice to Periodontics, a dentist must complete three years of formal academic training beyond dental school. Although trained as a general dentist as well as a periodontist, we do not provide routine restorative services or function as a replacement for your general dentist.

Periodontists also provide treatments, such as crown lengthening, bone regeneration, soft tissue grafting and implant site development (see the Procedures section for more information on these and other procedures).

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