What is a Periodontist?
A Periodontist is a dentist who specializes in the diagnosis, surgical and non-surgical treatment of diseases and conditions of the periodontium, the tissues that surround teeth and dental implants. This includes the gum and jawbones. Periodontists are experts in the management of patients with periodontal diseases including all forms of gingivitis, periodontitis and gingival recession (gum recession) as well as the placement and maintenance of dental implants.
Periodontics is one of the nine American Dental Association recognized specialties of dentistry. Periodontists now complete 3 years of additional formal training beyond dental school in an accredited residency training program.
The American Academy of Periodontology is the recognized governing academy for periodontics in the USA.
What Is Periodontal Disease?
The word periodontal means “around the tooth”. Periodontal disease attacks the gums and the bone that support the teeth. Plaque is a sticky film of food debris, bacteria, and saliva. If plaque is not removed, it turns into calculus (tartar). When plaque and calculus are not removed, they begin to destroy the gums and bone. Periodontal disease is characterized by red, swollen, and bleeding gums.
Periodontal disease is most often preceded by gingivitis which is a bacterial infection of the gum tissue. A bacterial infection affects the gums when the toxins contained in plaque begin to irritate and inflame the gum tissues. Once this bacterial infection colonizes in the gum pockets between the teeth, it becomes much more difficult to remove and treat. Periodontal disease is a progressive condition that eventually leads to the destruction of the connective tissue and jawbone. If left untreated, it can lead to shifting teeth, loose teeth and eventually tooth loss.
The Risk of Periodontal Disease
Periodontal disease is the leading cause of tooth loss among adults in the developed world and should always be promptly treated.
Four out of five people have periodontal disease and don’t know it! Most people are not aware of it because the disease is usually painless in the early stages.
Not only is it the number one reason for tooth loss, research suggests that there may be a link between periodontal disease and other diseases such as, stroke, bacterial pneumonia, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and increased risk during pregnancy. Researchers are determining if inflammation and bacteria associated with periodontal disease affects these systemic diseases and conditions. Smoking also increases the risk of periodontal disease.
Common Causes of Gum Disease
There are genetic and environmental factors involved in the onset of gum disease, and in many cases the risk of developing periodontitis can be significantly lowered by taking preventative measures.
Here are some of the most common causes of gum disease:
Poor dental hygiene - Preventing dental disease starts at home with good oral hygiene and a balanced diet. Prevention also includes regular dental visits which include exams, cleanings, and x-rays. A combination of excellent home care and professional dental care will ensure and preserve the natural dentition and supporting bony structures. When bacteria and calculus (tartar) are not removed, the gums and bone around the teeth become affected by bacteria toxins and can cause gingivitis or periodontitis, which can lead to tooth loss.
Tobacco use – Research has indicated that smoking and tobacco use is one of the most significant factors in the development and progression of gum disease. In addition to smokers experiencing a slower recovery and healing rate, smokers are far more likely to suffer from calculus (tartar) build up on teeth, deep pockets in the gingival tissue and significant bone loss.
Genetic predisposition – Despite practicing rigorous oral hygiene routines, as much as 30% of the population may have a strong genetic predisposition to gum disease. These individuals are six times more likely to develop periodontal disease than individuals with no genetic predisposition. Genetic tests can be used to determine susceptibility and early intervention can be performed to keep the oral cavity healthy.
Pregnancy and menopause – During pregnancy, regular brushing and flossing is critical. Hormonal changes experienced by the body can cause the gum tissue to become more sensitive, rendering them more susceptible to gum disease.
Chronic stress and poor diet – Stress lowers the ability of the immune system to fight off disease, which means bacterial infections may possibly beat the body’s defense system. Poor diet or malnutrition can also lower the body’s ability to fight periodontal infections, as well as negatively affecting the health of the gums.
Diabetes and underlying medical issues – Many medical conditions can intensify or accelerate the onset and progression of gum disease including respiratory disease, heart disease, arthritis and osteoporosis. Diabetes hinders the body’s ability to utilize insulin which makes the bacterial infection in the gums more difficult to control and cure.
Grinding teeth – The clenching or grinding of the teeth can significantly damage the supporting tissue surrounding the teeth. Grinding one’s teeth is usually associated with a “bad bite” or the misalignment of the teeth. When an individual is suffering from gum disease, the additional destruction of gingival tissue due to grinding can accelerate the progression of the disease.
Medication – Many drugs including oral contraceptive pills, heart medicines, anti-depressants and steroids affect the overall condition of teeth and gums; making them more susceptible to gum disease. Steroid use promotes gingival overgrowth, which makes swelling more commonplace and allows bacteria to colonize more readily in the gum tissue.
Common Signs & Symptoms
It is extremely important to note that periodontal disease can progress without any signs or symptoms such as pain. This is why regular dental checkups are exceptionally important. Described below are some of the most common signs and symptoms of periodontitis.
If you have any of these signs or symptoms, the advice of a general dentist or periodontist should be sought as soon as possible:
Unexplained bleeding – Bleeding when brushing, flossing or eating food is one of the most common symptoms of a periodontal infection. The toxins in plaque cause a bacterial infection which makes the tissues prone to bleeding.
Pain, redness or swelling – A periodontal infection may be present if the gums are swollen, red or painful for no apparent reason. It is essential to halt the progression of the infection before the gum tissue and jaw bone have been affected. It is also critical to treat the infection before it is carried into the bloodstream to other areas of the body.
Longer-looking teeth – Periodontal disease can lead to gum recession. The toxins produced by bacteria can destroy the supporting tissue and bones, thus making the teeth look longer and the smile appear more “toothy.”
Bad breath/halitosis – Although breath odor can originate from back of the tongue, the lungs and stomach, from the food we consume, or from tobacco use, bad breath may be caused by old food particles which sit between the teeth and underneath the gumline. The deeper gum pockets are able to house more debris and bacteria, causing a foul odor.
Loose teeth/change in bite pattern – A sign of rapidly progressing periodontitis is the loosening or shifting of the teeth in the affected area. As the bone tissue gets destroyed, teeth that were once firmly attached to the jawbone become loose or may shift in position.
Pus – Pus oozing from between the teeth is a definitive sign that a periodontal infection is in progress. The pus is a result of the body trying to fight the bacterial infection.
Types of Periodontal Disease
There are many different varieties of periodontal disease, and many ways in which these variations manifest themselves. All require immediate treatment by a periodontist to halt the progression and save the gum tissue and bone.
Here are some of the most common types of periodontal disease along with the treatments typically performed to correct them:
Gingivitis is the mildest and most common form of periodontitis. It is caused by the toxins in plaque and leads to periodontal disease. People at increased risk of developing gingivitis include pregnant women, women taking birth control pills, people with uncontrolled diabetes, steroid users and people who control seizures and blood pressure using medication.
Treatment: Gingivitis is easily reversible using a solid combination of home care and professional cleaning. The dentist may perform root planing and deep scaling procedures to cleanse the pockets of debris. A combination of antibiotics and medicated mouthwashes may be used to kill any remaining bacteria and promote the good healing of the pockets.
Chronic Periodontal Disease
Chronic periodontal disease is the most common form of the disease, and occurs much more frequently in people over 45. Chronic periodontal disease is characterized by inflammation below the gum line and the progressive destruction of the gingival and bone tissue. It may appear that the teeth are gradually growing in length, but in actuality the gums are gradually recessing.
Treatment: Unfortunately unlike gingivitis, chronic periodontal disease cannot be completely cured because the supportive tissue cannot be rebuilt. However, the dentist can halt the progression of the disease using scaling and root planing procedures in combination with antimicrobial treatments. If necessary, the periodontist can perform surgical treatments such as pocket reduction surgery and also tissue grafts to strengthen the bone and improve the aesthetic appearance of the oral cavity.
Aggressive Periodontal Disease
Aggressive periodontal disease is characterized by the rapid loss of gum attachment, the rapid loss of bone tissue and familial aggregation. The disease itself is essentially the same as chronic periodontitis but the progression is much faster. Smokers and those with a family history of this disease are at an increased risk of developing aggressive periodontitis.
Treatment: The treatments for aggressive periodontal disease are the same as those for chronic periodontal disease, but aggressive periodontal disease sufferers are far more likely to require a surgical intervention. This form of the disease is harder to halt and treat, but the dentist will perform scaling, root planing, antimicrobial, and in some cases laser procedures in an attempt to save valuable tissue and bone.
Periodontal Disease Relating to Systemic Conditions
Periodontal disease can be a symptom of a disease or condition affecting the rest of the body. Depending on the underlying condition, the disease can behave like aggressive periodontal disease, working quickly to destroy tissue. Heart disease, diabetes and respiratory disease are the most common cofactors, though there are many others. Even in cases where little plaque coats the teeth, many medical conditions intensify and accelerate the progression of periodontal disease.
Treatment: Initially, the medical condition which caused the onset of periodontal disease must be controlled. The dentist will halt the progression of the disease using the same treatments used for controlling aggressive and chronic periodontal disease.
Necrotizing Periodontal Disease
This form of the disease rapidly worsens and is more prevalent among people who suffer from HIV, immunosuppression, malnutrition, chronic stress or choose to smoke. Tissue death (necrosis) frequently affects the periodontal ligament, gingival tissues and alveolar bone.
Treatment: Necrotizing periodontal disease is extremely rare. Because it may be associated with HIV or another serious medical condition, it is likely the dentist will consult with a physician before commencing treatment. Scaling, root planing, antibiotic pills, medicated mouth wash and fungicidal medicines are generally used to treat this form of the disease.
Treatment for Periodontal Disease
There are many surgical and nonsurgical treatments the periodontist may choose to perform, depending upon the exact condition of the teeth, gums and jawbone. A complete periodontal exam of the mouth will be done before any treatment is performed or recommended.
Here are some of the more common treatments for periodontal disease:
Scaling and root planing
– In order to preserve the health of the gum tissue, the bacteria and calculus (tartar) which initially caused the infection, must be removed. The gum pockets will be cleaned and treated with antibiotics as necessary to help alleviate the infection. A prescription mouthwash may be incorporated into daily cleaning routines.
– When the bone and gum tissues have been destroyed, regrowth can be actively encouraged using grafting procedures. A membrane may be inserted into the affected areas to assist in the regeneration process.
Pocket elimination surgery
– Pocket elimination surgery (also known as flap surgery) is a surgical treatment which can be performed to reduce the pocket size between the teeth and gums. Surgery on the jawbone is another option which serves to eliminate indentations in the bone which foster the colonization of bacteria.
– When teeth have been lost due to periodontal disease, the aesthetics and functionality of the mouth can be restored by implanting prosthetic teeth into the jawbone. Tissue regeneration procedures may be required prior to the placement of a dental implant in order to strengthen the bone.