What Is Periodontal Disease?

Periodontal disease affects the structures in the mouth that support teeth. It’s sometimes called “gum disease,” but it involves bone and other tissue, too. This disease is often chronic (persists over time). With proper treatment, damage can be limited and sometimes even reversed to help keep your mouth healthier.

A Silent Disease

Periodontal disease often causes no symptoms, especially in its earlier stages. This silent disease can still damage the gums, bone, and other tissue that surround the teeth, leading to loss. There is also evidence that the bacteria that cause periodontal disease are linked to more general health problems. These include heart disease, pregnancy complications, cancer, pneumonia, and other serious conditions.

Risk Factors For Periodontal Disease

Some of the factors that put you at risk can be controlled. Others can’t. Risk factors include:
  • Smoking
  • Poor oral hygiene (brushing and flossing)
  • Having diabetes, especially when poorly controlled
  • Stress, teeth-grinding, or bite problems
  • Hormone changes, such as those during pregnancy
  • Having a weakened immune system
  • Having a close family member with periodontal disease
  • Usage of certain prescriptions

Treatment for Periodontal Disease

Special dental cleanings, medications, and surgery are among the treatments for this disease. If periodontal disease is caught early, your dentist may be able to reverse some or all of the damage. In many cases, it can save teeth you’re in danger of losing. You will need to commit to taking very good care of your teeth at home, and your periodontist will also recommend a maintence (upkeep) plan for your long-term care and stability, usually on a quarterly basis.

How Periodontal Disease Develops

Teeth are held in place by surrounding gums, bones and other tissue. Dental plaque, a sticky coating of bacteria that forms on teeth and at the gumline, is the main threat to teeth and their supporting tissues. If this plaque isn’t kept under control, over time it will lead to periodontal disease.

Dental plaque forms constantly, collecting in the grooves of the teeth, between teeth, at the gumline, and below it. If not removed with brushing and flossing, plaque hardens into tartar (also called calculus). Tartar can be removed only with a professional cleaning.

The disease starts when tartar and bacteria under the gumline lead to infection. As the body fights the infection, the gums become inflamed. Pockets form between the tooth and gum, making plaque harder to remove. As the disease advances, bone damage occurs and can lead to tooth loss.

Stages of Periodontal Disease

This is the mildest form of periodontal disease. The gum becomes inflamed. The space between gum and tooth deepens, forming a pocket. Gums may be red and swollen, or may bleed when probed, or there may be no symptoms. Gingivitis can often be reversed with dental cleanings and regular brushing and flossing. It is felt by most periodontists that a majority of individuals display some sign of gingivitis. Left untreated, it can progress to periodontitis.


With periodontitis, infection and inflammation spread to the bone supporting the teeth, and the gums may recede (shrink). Pockets deepen and can be impossible to keep clean. Redness, swelling, and bleeding may develop or worsen. Bacteria multiply and a destructive cycle begins to destroy the bone.

Advanced Periodontitis
As periodontitis advances, pockets deepen even more and can fill with pus. Around the roots of the teeth, the gums may start to swell. Bone loss continues. The teeth may feel sensitive to heat or cold, and may hurt when brushed. Teeth loosen and may been seen to shift, due to loss of supportive bone and ligament. In some cases, teeth may need to be removed to keep periodontal disease from spreading.
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Helpful Links
We encourage you to visit the American Academy of Periodontology website at www.perio.org for everything you need to know about periodontal health!