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Periodontics is the dental branch that focuses on the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of diseases within the tissues surrounding and supporting the teeth. These dental specialists are referred to as periodontists, or gum specialists, and are also involved in cosmetic dentistry procedures such as dental implants and periodontal plastic surgery.

The term Periodontics comes from the Greek words ‘peri’ meaning ‘around’ and ‘odons’ meaning ‘tooth.’ Tissues supporting the teeth are known as the periodontium, which include the gums, alveolar bone, cementum and the periodontal ligament (fibers that support the teeth and hold them in the jaw). Periodontal diseases are generally the result of a build-up of bacterial plaque within the gingival and teeth. If the build-up is left untreated, the disease will eventually deteriorate the supporting bone around the natural teeth, and could lead to bone loss or tooth loss. In fact, periodontal disease is the most common reason for tooth loss in adults.

Periodontitis Classifications

Periodontal diseases are classified into seven major categories, six of which are irreversible. Only the top item can be reversed:

  1. Gingivitis
  2. Chronic Periodontitis
  3. Aggressive Periodontitis
  4. Periodontitis as a manifestation of a systemic disease
  5. Necrotizing ulcerative gingivitis/Periodontitis
  6. Abscesses of the periodontium
  7. Combined periodontic-endodontic lesions

Symptoms of Periodontal Disease

Before periodontal disease gets out of hand, there are symptoms that signify the presence of it, including:

  • No pain
  • Redness of the gums while brushing, flossing or after biting hard into food
  • Bleeding of the gums while brushing, flossing or after biting into something hard
  • Recurring swelling of the gums
  • Bad breath
  • Metallic taste in one’s mouth
  • Gingival recession, or apparent lengthening of teeth
  • Deep pockets between teeth and gums

The biggest concern dentists have is the fact that all periodontal disease symptoms are virtually painless. Unfortunately, this is why so many people continue to neglect the problem or consider it insignificant. If you are experiencing these symptoms, you may want to meet with a periodontist for an examination.

Causes of Periodontal Disease

The biggest cause of periodontal disease is bacterial plaque. It’s a sticky, colorless substance that coats teeth. If it’s left untreated, the bacteria begins to infect the gums and destroy the surrounding tissues that support the teeth and bones. If this occurs, the gums will separate from the teeth and form pockets that fill with more bacterial plaque, which leads to further infection. Some of the major factors that lead to bacterial plaque build-up include:

Irregular teeth - Teeth that are decaying, broken or chipped or have been improperly fitted with crowns, bridges, or dentures are perfect places for plaque to hide and build. Normal oral hygiene methods generally do not reach these places.

Tobacco Usage - After numerous studies, it has been proven that tobacco users are more susceptible to mouth diseases. Calculus forms much quicker and thicker, and within deep pockets between gums and teeth after several years of tobacco use.

Poor Oral Hygiene - If you do not regularly brush, floss and/or rinse you may begin to suffer from the effects of bacterial plaque build-up.

Medical Conditions - People with certain diseases such as diabetes and leukemia are more susceptible to gum diseases due to lower resistance levels.

Diet – If you do not have healthy nutritional habits your body, including your teeth and gums, do not receive the nutrients they need to have the ability to fight infections.

Behavior – If you abuse your body with drugs and alcohol, slowly your body loses the ability to fight infections. Other things that compromise your body’s natural toughness are piercings, especially oral ones. All of these things make you susceptible to periodontal disease.

Hormones- Women especially suffer from hormone changes all their life- puberty, pregnancy and menopause. These changes can trigger changes in your body, including your mouth, increasing your chances for all sorts of diseases.

Genetics - Although not as common as other hereditary diseases such as heart disease, genetics can indicate a predisposition for developing diseases such as periodontal disease.

Medications - Dentists are familiar with the way certain medications (antidepressants, oral contraceptives, and some heart medicine) react to your gums and teeth. You should make your dentist aware of any medications you are taking.

Am I a Candidate for Periodontics?

Here are a few questions that may or may not suggest that you need to see a periodontist:

  • Are you experiencing the symptoms listed above, without pain?
  • Do other members of your current and ancestral family have periodontal disease?
  • Are you a heavy tobacco user?
  • Do you have one or more teeth that are irregular?
  • Do you have chipped, broken or cracked teeth?
  • Have you or any relatives been diagnosed with diabetes?
  • What are your eating habits? Do you receive enough nutrition each day?

Periodontic treatment is necessary if signs of periodontal disease or other related problems with your gums are evident. In most cases, gum diseases take long periods of time before they show themselves. Having routine dental check-ups and proper oral hygiene should help prevent or ‘catch’ the problem early enough to where it can be treated.

Page updated February 2011



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