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What Is Periodontal Disease?
If your hands began to bleed when you washed them, would you be concerned? Most likely the answer to this question is yes, absolutely. Yet, many people think it is normal for their gums bleed during brushing or flossing. In a 1999 study, researchers at the U.S. National Institutes of Health discovered that half of Americans over the age of 30 gums bleed.
Bleeding and swollen gums are early signs that your gums are infected with bacteria. If the signs are ignored, the infection can spread. The infection can deteriorate the tissue and structures that support your teeth in the jawbone. Eventually, your teeth can become so loose that they have to be extracted or can even fall out.
“Peri” means around, and “odontal” refers to teeth. Periodontal diseases is an infections of the tissue and the surrounding structures of the teeth. These include the gums, the cementum that covers the root, the periodontal ligament and the alveolar bone. In the earliest stage of periodontal disease, gingivitis, the infection affects only the gums. In more severe forms of the disease, all of the supporting tissues are involved.
For many years scientists have been trying to figure out what causes periodontal disease. It is now well accepted that bacteria in dental plaque are the major culprits. Researchers also are learning more about how an infection in your gums can affect your overall health.
In recent years, gum disease has been linked to other health problems. This is a new and exciting area of research. Many questions remain. Studies have produced varying answers about how much of a connection exists between gum disease and other medical problems. More research is needed.
Researchers are studying possible connections between gum disease and:
What Causes Periodontal Disease?
Periodontal disease is caused by bacteria in dental plaque. Plaque is the sticky substance that forms on your teeth soon after you have brushed. In an effort to get rid of the bacteria, the cells of your immune system release substances that inflame and damage the gums, periodontal ligament or alveolar bone. This leads to swollen, bleeding gums, a sign of gingivitis (the earliest stage of periodontal disease). Damage from periodontal disease also can cause teeth to become loose. This is a sign of severe periodontists (the advanced stage of disease).
You can prevent periodontal disease by practicing good oral hygiene and visiting your dentist regularly. Most people should see the dentist about once every six months. But if you already have gum disease you may need to visit more often.c cc
Daily brushing and flossing, when done correctly, can help to remove most of the plaque from your teeth. Professional cleanings by your dentist or dental hygienist will keep plaque under control in places that are harder for a toothbrush or floss to reach.
If oral hygiene slips or you skip dental visits, plaque builds up on the teeth. Eventually, it spreads below the gum line. The bacteria are protected there because your toothbrush can’t reach them. If plaque is not removed, the bacteria will continue to multiply. Your gum inflammation may get worse.
The buildup of plaque below the gum line causes the gums to become inflamed. As the gums swell, they detach from the tooth. This process forms a space, or “pocket,” between the tooth and gum. Bacteria can grow rapidly in the pockets. This encourages further plaque buildup.
If left untreated, periodontal disease may destroy the periodontal ligament and the alveolar bone, the structures that support your teeth.
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Another reason to remove plaque promptly is that over time it becomes hardened or calcified and turns into calculus. This is commonly called tartar. Even more plaque attaches to calculus because it’s a rougher surface than tooth enamel. It is also rougher than cementum, a layer that covers the tooth root. Calculus and plaque buildup in layers.
Using a tartar-control toothpaste may help slow the build-up of calculus around your teeth. It can’t affect the tartar that already has formed below the gum line, however.
Risks and Prevention
The bacteria in plaque are the main cause of periodontal disease. But several other factors also can contribute. They include other diseases, medicines and oral habits. These factors can increase your risk of gum disease or make it worse once the infection has set in.
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