What is Periodontal Disease?
Simply put, periodontal disease refers to the infection of the structures around the teeth, which includes the gums, bone tissue, and layers of the teeth, among others. Periodontal disease does not occur overnight, but is a disease that affects an individual in stages, with each stage developing more severe symptoms.
What Causes Periodontal Disease?
The major contributor to this disease is bacteria found in dental plaque. Bacteria, saliva and food debris create the sticky substance known as dental plaque, which begins to form on our pearly whites soon after we have brushed our teeth. Regular brushing removes this plaque from our teeth, but without regular dental hygiene and dentist visits, plaque can start to damage our teeth. Firstly, the bacteria in plaque slowly works away at our dental enamel and creates cavities and decay in our teeth. Secondly, our immune system responds to this build up of bad bacteria in our mouths by releasing substances that cause our gum tissue to become red and inflamed. This is one of the earliest stages of periodontal disease, known as Gingivitis. During this stage, the gums are inflamed and bleed easily, causing minor discomfort. This is why most individuals, who experience Gingivitis symptoms, do not seek professional help, as the symptoms are not very severe.
However, the stages of periodontal disease become increasingly worse from here. The symptoms of gingivitis can be completely reversed, whereas the later effects of periodontal disease leave permanent damage.
Once the gums have become inflamed and swollen, the gum tissue will start to pull away from the tooth, resulting in what we call receding gums. As the gum tissue recedes it forms a pocket between the tooth and the gum tissue. This space allows for more bacteria to grow and cause further plaque buildup.
If the disease is still left untreated, bacteria and the substances released by our own immune systems will begin to destroy other structures that support your teeth, such as bone tissue, which will result in the loss of teeth.
Periodontal Disease Risk Factors
Although bacteria is the main cause of periodontal disease, several other factors do increase a person’s risk of developing the disease.
Some people are more likely to develop the early symptoms of periodontal disease because of their genes. However, with good dental care, even the most highly prone individual can prevent or control periodontal disease.
Smoking and Tobacco Use
Smoking increases your risk of developing periodontal disease and makes it more severe. For example, smokers collect more tartar ( a hardened form of dental plaque) on their teeth, which contributes to the growth of bacteria in the mouth. Smokers will also often develop deeper periodontal pockets, when their gums recede, and are likely to lose more bone tissue as the disease progresses.
Difficult Teeth Cleaning
Anything that makes it more difficult to brush or floss your teeth, whether it be misaligned or crowded teeth, or braces and bridgework, can enhance the chance of plaque and tartar formation. The more plaque and tartar on your teeth, the greater your chance of developing periodontal disease.
Stress weakens your body’s immune system, which makes the periodontal disease worse and harder to treat.
Your hormone levels also inflict changes in the mouth. Therefore, puberty, pregnancy and menopause can temporarily increase the risk and severity of periodontal disease.
Medicines that, as a side effect, cause dry mouth, by decreasing saliva production, increase your chances of developing periodontal disease, as low saliva levels create an environment where plaque is more likely to form. Other medicines can cause gums to become enlarged, which makes them more likely to trap plaque.
Some diseases cause individuals to have a higher risk of developing periodontal disease, due to their symptoms or the medication taken for that disease. For example, diseases that increase a person’s periodontal disease risk include rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes and HIV infection.
A lack of certain vitamins and minerals in our diet can cause our oral and overall health to be at risk of disease. This is why good nutrition is important for a working immune system and healthy gums and mouth.