What is Periodontal Disease?

What is it?
Periodontal disease, or gum disease as it is commonly know, is an infection of the tissues that support the teeth. This disease occurs when plaque is left on the teeth for an extended period of time allowing it to become mineralized and hardening into calculus (tartar). This calculus becomes a haven for bacteria that cause the gums to become inflamed and irritated. The hard nature of calculus prevents its removal with standard brushing and flossing and can only be removed with specialized instruments during dental cleaning or periodontal therapy. As the disease progresses and calculus continues to accumulate, the attachment between tooth structure and the gums and bone is lost resulting in receding tissues, tooth mobility, and eventual tooth loss.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention recently released updated data in regard to periodontal disease in the United States. According to their studies:

  • 47.2% of adults 30 years old and older have some form of periodontal disease
  • In adults 65 years old or greater, this number increases to 70.1%

In order to stop the progression of the disease, intervention must be taken. As with many other diseases, once the damage has occurred complete recovery is doubtful, but periodontal therapy can help to freeze the disease at its current point and in some individuals there will be slight recovery. The important part is to begin treatment quickly and remain vigilant as you work with the hygienist to regain oral health.

Scaling and Root Planing

Scaling and root planing, or SRP, is the first step in treating periodontal disease. During the dental checkup, your hygienist took measurements of you gum tissue to evaluate the health of your periodontium(gums and bone). If the measurements were 5+mm you have some stage of periodontal disease. The procedure of scaling and root planing involves using specialized instruments to scrape the calculus from the root surface of the teeth from below the gum tissue. Once this has been completed, the gum tissue typically begins to feel better and inflammation calms down. However, since the gum pockets around each tooth are deeper than in cases of healthy gums, the propensity to rebuild calculus in these areas remains and must be professionally removed. This treatment is performed in quadrants of the mouth and is often split into two appointments depending on the severity of the disease.

Periodontal Maintainance

As treatment continues, reevaluation will take place to determine your best course of followup or periodontal maintenance. Periodontal maintenance describes the followup appointments that range between every 3-4 months and replace the regular 6 month cleanings. These will continue until your hygienist feels that your oral state has stabilized.