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Periodontics is a dental speciality that involves the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of diseases of the supporting and surrounding tissues of the teeth (like your gums) and the maintenance of the health, function and aesthetics of these structures and tissues.
Periodontal diseases range from simple gum inflammation to serious disease that results in major damage to the soft tissue and bone that support the teeth. In the worst cases, teeth are lost. Whilst periodontal (gum) disease is an obvious threat to your oral health, research is also pointing to possible health effects of periodontal diseases that go well beyond your mouth - including heart disease.
What Causes Periodontal Disease?
Our mouths are full of bacteria. This bacteria, along with mucus and other particles, constantly form a sticky, colourless "plaque" on teeth. Brushing and flossing help get rid of plaque. Plaque that is not removed can harden and form bacteria-harbouring "tartar" that brushing doesn't clean. Only a professional cleaning by a dentist or dental hygienist can remove tartar.
The longer plaque and tartar are on teeth, the more harmful they become. The bacteria cause inflammation of the gums that is called "gingivitis." In gingivitis, the gums become red, swollen and can bleed easily. Gingivitis is a mild form of gum disease that can usually be reversed with daily brushing and flossing, and regular cleaning by a dentist or dental hygienist. This form of gum disease does not include any loss of bone and tissue that hold teeth in place.
When gingivitis is not treated, it can advance to "periodontitis" (which means "inflammation around the tooth.") In periodontitis, gums pull away from the teeth and form "pockets" that are infected. The body's immune system fights the bacteria as the plaque spreads and grows below the gum line. Bacterial toxins and the body's enzymes fighting the infection actually start to break down the bone and connective tissue that hold teeth in place. If not treated, the bones, gums, and connective tissue that support the teeth are destroyed. The teeth may eventually become loose and have to be removed.
How do I Know if I Have Periodontal Disease?
Symptoms are often not noticeable until the disease is advanced. They include:
Bad breath that won't go away
Red or swollen gums
Tender or bleeding gums
Any of these symptoms may signal a serious problem, which should be checked by a dentist. At your dental visit:
The dentist will ask about your medical history to identify underlying conditions or risk factors (such as smoking) that may contribute to periodontal disease
The dentist or hygienist will examine your gums and note any signs of inflammation
The dentist or hygienist will use a tiny ruler called a 'probe' to check for periodontal pockets and to measure any pockets. In a healthy mouth, the depth of these pockets is usually between 1 and 3mm
The dentist or hygienist may take an X-ray to see whether there is any bone loss
The dentist may refer you to a periodontist, a specialist who treats gum diseases