What Is Periodontal Disease?

           Periodontal disease is an inflammatory disease of the tissues (gums and jawbone) that support the teeth in your mouth. This inflammation occurs as the body tries to defend itself against attack by bacterial infection.

           What causes periodontal disease? If you have any of your natural teeth, you have a vast number and variety of bacteria in your mouth. These bacteria form a sticky film on your teeth called plaque and produce toxins that irritate the periodontal tissues causing inflammation. This inflammation is periodontal disease and, depending on its severity, it can result in:


An example of extensive
periodontal disease.


           Bad breath and shifting of the teeth are also common signs of your having periodontal disease. Scientific studies have linked cardiovascular disease (heart attacks or strokes) and low birth weight babies from premature deliveries to periodontal disease as well as difficulty in controlling your blood sugar if you are diabetic. Some studies have even suggested that the causative bacteria are transmitted by intimate family members and that you may have a genetic tendency for the increased inflammation that characterizes major periodontal disease.

           What can be done about it? Nightly brushing and flossing are essential, but even the most painstaking home care will not remove all the plaque on and around your teeth. What remains hardens into a calcified substance called calculus or tartar that is even more of an irritant. Only our hygienist can remove this from your teeth here in the office. If left on your teeth for significant amounts of time, especially under the gum line, tartar will almost always cause periodontal disease.

           There are two main phases of periodontal disease - gingivitis and periodontitis (anytime a word ends in -itis it means "inflammation of"). Gingivitis is the early stage of periodontal disease when plaque has caused inflammation of the gum (gingival) tissue alone. Red, bleeding gums that may be swollen or tender are the most common signs of gingivitis. Conscientious home care after our hygienist has cleaned your teeth will usually eliminate this form of periodontal disease.

           Periodontitis occurs when bacterial toxins and their resulting inflammation destroy the ligaments that attach gum tissue to your teeth and jawbone as well as the jawbone itself. This destruction creates pockets under the gum line where bacteria and food particles can accumulate and fester. This festering is what is called a periodontal (gum) infection. If left unchecked, this condition can leave your teeth so unsupported that they become loose and either fall out or require extraction. Every time our hygienist cleans your teeth she checks for these pockets by using a periodontal probe that she places underneath your gums at several points around each tooth to gauge their health.


           What must be done if you are diagnosed with periodontitis by Dr. McArdle? A deeper cleaning that removes tartar and other accumulations from the pockets (called scaling and root planing) may be needed, possibly followed by gingivectomy. Antibiotics and antimicrobial rinses may also be used. In more advanced disease states or when testing indicates that you may have a predisposition toward more advanced disease, Dr. McArdle will advise you to see a periodontist (gum specialist) who can treat the condition more definitively.

           Are there other factors that contribute to periodontal disease? Yes. All of the following can contribute to both the onset and severity of periodontal disease; tobacco use (smoking or chewing), defective dental work, a misaligned bite, grinding or clenching your teeth, pregnancy, systemic diseases such as AIDS or diabetes, certain prescription medications and xerostomia (dry mouth) among others.




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Dr. Barry F. McArdle, D.M.D. ~ 118 Maplewood Avenue, The Captain Moses House, Suite B-7, Portsmouth, NH 03801

Questions or Request an Appointment: Contact Us     Phone: 603-430-1010     Email: drmcardle@mcardledmd.com     Website: http://mcardledmd.com