How can I tell if I have gum disease?

Periodontal disease or gum disease is the leading cause of tooth loss in the United States. In fact, over 90% of Americans have periodontal disease to one degree or another. Periodontal disease can effect patients of all ages, though it tends to present itself most in patients between the ages of 30 and 60. In most cases, the progress of the disease is very slow and in many cases is asymptomatic. The effects of gum disease can be wide spread, causing harm to the supporting structures of the teeth, which include the gum and the supporting bone.  The only way to effectively prevent gum disease is to maintain meticulous oral hygiene and to commit to a routine schedule of regular visits to your dentist. The key to the treatment of gum disease is early diagnosis with preventative care that will stop the progress of the disease process.

Gingivitis, or inflammation of the gums, is the name given to the very initial stages of gum disease. Gingivitis is reversible and causes no permanent damage to the supporting bone which surrounds the tooth. Gum disease at all stages is spread by the rising rate of bacteria in the oral cavity. Symptoms of gingivitis include bad breath, swollen gums and gums lines which bleed during brushing and flossing. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, you should visit your dentist as soon as possible. These early stages of gum disease may be treated very easily by your dentist and hygienist who will provide a professional cleaning and will review your daily oral health care routines with you.

Gingivitis, if left untreated, will advance to periodontitis, an irreversible loss of the supporting bone of the tooth. The process begins with a small gap that occurs between the roots of the teeth and the lining of your gums, known as a periodontal pocket.  These pockets become difficult to clean and are a wonderful home for the destructive bacteria that begin to break down the bony structure which supports the teeth. Care in the early stages of periodontitis can prevent further damage from happening and in many cases may be treated non-surgically through a process known as scaling and root planing. 

 As the disease process worsens, however, advanced periodontitis occurs.  The pockets deepen and more bone is lost.  The affected teeth may become mobile and when infection begins there may be suppuration (pus) around the infected teeth. At this point, periodontal surgical procedures are indicated to inhibit the progression of the disease process and to increase the ability of the patient to maintain their teeth.