Periodontal is a word meaning “around the tooth.” Periodontal disease is a condition in which the tissue (gums, deeper supporting tissue, and bone) around a tooth or teeth become infected and inflamed. Periodontal disease includes both gingivitis and periodontitis.

Periodontal Disease

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Periodontal disease is caused by an overgrowth of the bacteria that live naturally in the mouth. These bacteria are responsible for the sticky white substance that develops on teeth called plaque. When plaque stays on a tooth long enough, it hardens into a solid material called calculus or tartar. This material is much more difficult to remove from teeth than plaque. Over time, the presence of calculus causes gum inflammation or gingivitis. Gingivitis is a more mild form of periodontal disease, affecting the gums. It is almost always reversible with appropriate treatment.

If gingivitis is not halted through careful treatment, then the inflammation may spread below the gum line, affecting the deeper tissues and bone that surround and support the teeth. This condition is known as periodontitis. Untreated periodontitis can destroy the bone and other supporting tissues resulting in eventual tooth loss.

Many cases of periodontitis begin with gingivitis. However, it is possible for the deeper infection of periodontitis to begin without the more superficial gingivitis having been noticed.

Periodontal disease is a serious condition that needs to be thoroughly and carefully treated by your dentist. A variety of studies suggest the possibility of an association between periodontal disease and:

  • An increased risk of heart disease
  • An increased risk of stroke
  • Problems controlling diabetes
  • Increased lung infections and bronchitis, especially in susceptible people
  • Premature or early delivery of pregnant women with periodontal disease
  • Low-birth weight babies of women with periodontal disease

The chance of developing periodontitis increases with age. Approximately 8.5% of people aged 20-64 have periodontal disease, and 5% of adults aged 20-64 have moderate to severe periodontal disease. Seventeen percent of people aged 65 and older have the condition. Unfortunately, studies suggest that only a fraction of people with periodontitis are aware that they have the condition and are receiving treatment.