What is Periodontal Disease

What is Periodontal (Gum) Disease?

Periodontal disease (also known as periodontitis or gum disease) is a common inflammatory condition which affects the surrounding soft tissues of teeth.  In more advanced stages of periodontal disease the supporting hard tissues (bone) of teeth become involved.

The first stage of periodontal disease is called gingivitis (a bacterial infection of the gum tissue).  The bacterial infection affects the gums when the toxins contained in plaque begin to irritate and inflame the gum tissues.  When this bacterial infection becomes established in the gum pockets around and in between the teeth, the condition 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 the jawbone that support the teeth.  If left untreated, periodontal disease can lead to shifting teeth, loose teeth and eventually tooth loss.

Periodontal disease is the leading cause of tooth loss among adults in the developed world and should always be promptly treated.

Types of Periodontal Disease

When left untreated, gingivitis (mild gum inflammation) can spread from the surface of gum tissue to below the gum line.  When the gums become irritated by the toxins contained in plaque, a chronic inflammatory response causes the body to break down and destroy its own soft tissues and bone.  There may be little or no symptoms as periodontal disease causes the teeth to separate from the infected gum tissue.  Deepening pockets between the gums and teeth are generally indicative that soft tissue and bone are being destroyed by periodontal disease.

The most common types of periodontal disease are:

  • Chronic periodontitis – Inflammation within the supporting tissues causing deep pocketing and gum recession.  It may appear the teeth are lengthening, but in actuality, the gums (gingiva) are receding.  This is the most common form of periodontal disease and is characterized by the progressive loss of the tooth attachment.  The destruction of the tooth attachment may be slow, but it is usually interspersed with periods of rapid progression.
  • Aggressive periodontitis – This form of gum disease occurs in an otherwise clinically healthy individual.  It is characterized by rapid loss of gum attachment and chronic bone destruction.
  • Necrotizing periodontitis – This form of periodontal disease most often occurs in individuals suffering from systemic conditions such as HIV, immunosuppression and malnutrition.  Necrosis (tissue death) occurs in the gingival tissues, periodontal ligament and alveolar bone.
  • Periodontitis caused by systemic disease – This form of gum disease often begins at an early age.  Medical conditions such as respiratory disease, diabetes and heart disease are common cofactors.