Gum Disease

Gum disease is also known as periodontal disease, and is an infection of the gums surrounding your teeth. Gum disease is one of the top reasons for tooth loss in adults, and because it is virtually pain free, many patients do not know they have the disease. During each regular checkup, your dentist will check for signs of periodontal disease by measuring the space between your teeth and gums.

What Causes Gum Disease?

Gum disease is caused by a buildup of plaque (a sticky form of bacteria that forms on the teeth). If the plaque is not removed (by flossing, brushing, and regular dental checkups), it will continue to build up and create toxins that can damage the gums. Periodontal disease forms just below the gum line, and creates small pockets that separate the gums from the teeth. Periodontal disease has two stages: gingivitis and periodontitis.

  • Gingivitis - This is the early stage of gum disease, when the gums become red, swollen, and bleed easily. At this stage, the disease is treatable and can usually be eliminated by daily brushing and flossing.
  • Periodontitis - If left untreated, gingivitis will advance into periodontitis, and the gums and bone that support the teeth will become seriously and irreversibly damaged. Gums infected with periodontitis can cause teeth to become loose, fall out, or be removed by a dentist.

Certain factors can increase a patient's risk of developing periodontal disease, including:

  • Smoking or using chewing tobacco
  • Diabetes
  • Certain types of medication such as steroids, anti-epilepsy drugs, cancer therapy drugs, calcium channel blockers, and oral contraceptives
  • Bridges that no longer fit properly
  • Crooked teeth
  • Old fillings
  • Pregnancy

While it is possible to have periodontal disease and not know it, some symptoms can include:

  • Gums that bleed easily
  • Red, swollen, tender gums
  • Gums that have pulled away from the teeth
  • Persistent bad breath or bad taste
  • Pus between your teeth and gums
  • Permanent teeth that are loose or separating
  • Any change in the way your teeth fit together when you bite
  • Any change in the fit of partial dentures

Treating Gum Disease

Treatments for gum disease can vary depending on the severity of each individual case. Typical treatments include:

  • Non-surgical treatments including scaling & root planing (deep cleaning) and localized antibiotic placement
  • Periodontal surgery
  • Dental implants

Preventing Gum Disease

Regular dental checkups and periodontal examinations are important for maintaining your health and the health of your smile. You don't have to lose teeth to periodontal disease, and by practicing good oral hygiene at home, you can significantly reduce your chances of ever getting gum disease. Remember to brush regularly, clean between your teeth, eat a balanced diet, and schedule regular dental visits to help keep your smile healthy.                                                                                                     

What is a Prophylaxis?

Dental Prophylaxis or "Prophy" is a professional procedure performed on patients with normal, healthy mouths to maintain health and prevent the initiation of dental disease. This procedure includes scaling and polishing of plaque, hard deposits, and stain mostly above the gingival margin or "gumline". This procedure is not intended for  people who have active periodontal disease. A typical prophy patient does not have significant deposits below the gumline. They exhibit excellent homecare and have healthy gum tissues that do not bleed on gentle probing. Prophy patients typically have periodontal pocket (a tiny groove between the tooth and the gum) readings of three millimeters or less.

What is Periodontal Disease?

Periodontal disease is an incurable bacterial infection and the number one reason adults lose teeth. As periodontal disease advances the infection can destroy the ligaments and bone that support your teeth. If you have periodontal disease your gums may bleed when you brush or floss. Your gums may be soft swollen or tender. You may have persistent bad breath. It is also possible to have no noticeable symptoms. In fact, most people who have periodontal disease are not even aware of it. The bacteria that cause periodontal disease may also contribute to heart disease, respiratory infections, diabetes, and pancreatic cancer.

What is the cause?

The main cause of periodontal disease is the long term build-up of plaque and bacteria that constantly forms on your teeth. When plaque stays on your teeth for two to three days it hardens into calculus or tartar. The bacteria in plaque invade the spaces between your teeth and gums and produce toxins. Your body reacts to these toxins by pulling away the tissues that surround your teeth and destroy the surrounding bone. If there is not enough support for the teeth, they will become loose and need to be extracted.

Diagnosis and treatment

To determine if you have periodontal disease we perform a thorough examination which includes taking x-rays to determine how much bone has been lost. We measure the depth of the sulcus (a tiny groove between the tooth and the gum) with a probe. A reading of more than three millimeters could be a sign of periodontal disease, and we pay careful attention to those areas. If we find periodontal disease we will discuss your treatment options and proper homecare. We want to help you maintain the health of your teeth, gums, and bone, and restore your healthy smile.


Scaling and Root Planing (SRP) is a non-surgical procedure performed in the presence of periodontal disease. This treatment is recommended when removal of the deposits on the teeth is no longer a preventative service. Scaling and Root Planing removes the source of the infection and bacterial toxins from the tooth and surrounding tissues. Using special instruments we carefully and meticulously remove the plaque and hard deposits above and below the gumline and along the root surfaces. If you have just a few pockets of infection we may treat just those teeth. However, if the infection is more widespread we may treat one or two sections of your mouth at a time spacing the treatment over several appointments.

Periodontal Maintenance (PM) is therapeutic in nature and includes removal of bacterial plaque and hard deposits from above and below the gumline, site specific scaling and root planning where indicated, and polishing the teeth. Periodontal maintenance should always follow surgical and non-surgical periodontal treatment. When a patient completes SRP, they are now and forever considered a “Periodontal Patient”. Periodontal disease is an incurable disease. Similar to heart disease and diabetes, without proper continuous therapy the disease will always return and your oral health will deteriorate. Research reports that the bacteria that cause periodontal disease repopulate a healthy and recently scaled pocket as early as six to twelve weeks. The periodontal maintenance appointment is designed to monitor jaw bone levels and the healing of periodontal pockets, and to dismantle the destructive bacteria in order to prevent the return of the disease state. Periodontal maintenance is professional therapy every three months. Research shows that patients with this disease who do not receive the three month professional periodontal maintenance lose two to three times more teeth and need SRP treatment twice as often. Effective daily homecare is also essential to help reduce the bacterial level in the mouth.

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