Periodontal disease, also known as periodontitis and gum disease, is a progressive disease that can lead to tooth loss and irreversible damage to the mouth. Like all forms of tooth decay, periodontal disease is caused by toxin-producing bacteria in the mouth. The bacteria gradually irritate and inflame the gingival tissues that surround and support the teeth, causing a bacterial infection.

When the bacteria are left to colonize in the gingival tissue, deep pockets between the teeth and gums will form, creating more space for bacteria to gather and weakening the teeth. If detected and treated early, periodontal disease will only produce mild inflammation. This is the stage of periodontal disease called gingivitis.

If the bacterial infection is left to progress further, periodontal disease will destroy the underlying jawbone and gums and lead to tooth loss. The infection can also travel to other areas of the body through the bloodstream, causing countless other health complications.

What causes periodontal disease?

Periodontal disease is caused by many factors—some environmental and some genetic. In most cases, periodontal disease can be halted or prevented by maintaining a proper oral care routine and visiting the dentist.

Some of the most common causes of periodontal disease are:

  • Poor dental hygiene - When calculus (tartar) and bacteria are not removed from the teeth and gums, bacterial toxins will wear down tooth enamel and eat away at the gum tissue, causing gingivitis, periodontitis, and tooth loss. Preventing poor dental hygiene starts with a proper oral care routine at home and eating a balanced diet. Prevention also includes frequent dental exams, cleanings, X-rays, and other professional preventative measures.
  • Genetic predisposition – Genetic tests can be used to determine whether an individual is susceptible to periodontal disease. As much as 30% of the population is thought to have a strong genetic predisposition, whether they have a rigorous oral hygiene routine or not. For these people, early intervention is key to keeping the oral cavity healthy.
  • Pregnancy and menopause – Periods of major hormonal changes can leave gum tissue more sensitive and susceptible to disease. During these periods, regular brushing and flossing is critical.
  • Diabetes and underlying medical issues – Certain health conditions make fighting infection much harder for the body. Diabetes, for example, hinders the body’s ability to create insulin which is known to control periodontal infections. Respiratory disease, heart disease, osteoporosis, and arthritis are also linked to the onset and progression of gum disease.
  • Chronic stress and poor diet – A poor diet can both negatively affect the health of the gums and limit the body’s ability to fight infection. Similarly, high-stress levels limit the functionality of the immune system, weakening the body’s defense system and making it harder to fight off disease and bacterial infection.
  • Medication – Teeth and gums can be negatively affected by many drugs including heart medicines, anti-depressants, and oral contraceptive pills. Steroids are also known to weaken teeth and gums and promote gingival overgrowth. This leads to swelling and makes it easier for bacteria to colonize the gum tissue.
  • Grinding teeth – “Bad bite,” misaligned teeth, and stress are major factors of a teeth-grinding, or bruxing, habit. Grinding and clenching the teeth can damage the surrounding supporting tissue. If an individual is already suffering from gum disease, bruxing can lead to additional destruction of gingival tissue, accelerating the progression of the disease.
  • Tobacco use – Smoking and using tobacco products are some of the worst habits for your oral health and are directly linked to the development and progression of gum disease. Smokers are more likely to experience calculus (tartar) build-up on teeth, significant bone loss, and deep pockets in the gingival tissue. Smokers also have a slower recovery and healing rate, making periodontal disease progress faster than normal.

How is periodontal disease treated?

Periodontists are dentists who specialize in placing dental implants and treating gum disease. To prevent the onset, progression, and recurrence of gum disease, a periodontist can address its causes and discuss preventative measures with their patients.

In the early stages of gum disease, a periodontist can prescribe antifungal and antibiotic medications to treat infection and halt the progression of the disease. They can also perform scaling and root planning procedures which effectively clean the deep pockets in the mouth.

For more serious cases, a periodontist may promote natural tissue regeneration by performing tissue grafts. To correct gum recession, they can recontour the gingival tissue to create an even, aesthetically pleasing smile. They may also insert dental implants if one or several teeth are missing.

To ask any questions or express concerns about the causes or treatment options relating to periodontal disease, please contact Brooklyn Dentist. Our dentist, Dr. Shahin, and our dental hygienists are always happy to help. We treat patients from Crown Heights, Brooklyn Heights, Fort Greene, Park Slope, and other areas of Brooklyn.