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Periodontal Disease

Periodontal Disease is an insidious disease that affects the gums and underlying bone in a large number of patients. Only about one-in-four of our patients seem to escape this condition.

The mouth is an amazing and important part of the human body. It is the processing plant for all of the fuel that we need to survive. Importantly, our body produces saliva to remineralise our teeth after eating or drinking acids, and, to mix with our food to make it slippery and breakdown carbohydrates. Unfortunately, the minerals within our saliva build up on our teeth. This is known as tartar or calculus. If this is allowed to build up, food traps under this tartar and is missed by your toothbrush. This results in an infection of the gums that results in the slow breakdown of the bone that holds in your teeth.

Described above is quite a simplistic way of describing this disease. In reality, its prevention is as simple as having your teeth cleaned professionally by a dentist every six to twelve months.

Many of our patients are surprised when we diagnose this condition. Usually, it is because of very infrequent visits to the dentist, or, because our patients have been regularly told that their teeth are fine.

Commonly called Adult Onset Periodontitis, the progress usually commences at or about the age of 35. It is often handed down by mum and dad.

In a healthy mouth, the join between the tooth and the gum is 3mm or less. This is known as the gingival pocket and could be seen as similar to a fingernail. With excellent tooth brushing and flossing, this area under the gum can be cleaned efficiently. Unfortunately, in areas that trap food or are difficult to clean, the gum pocket remains uncleaned and this allows bacteria to set up colonies of infection. The human body reacts to this infection by increasing the blood supply to the area. In other words, this area now bleeds. To be simplistic, the body reacts by resorbing the bone around the teeth and providing white blood cells to attempt to kill the bacteria in the infection. The end result of this is puss. As the bone resorbs, the pockets become deeper and even harder to clean.

From a patients point of view, the gums bleed, the breath smells, and, over time, the teeth become loose and painful.

Periodontal disease comes in various forms; early, moderate or advanced.

Sadly, it is difficult for us to show you early periodontal disease as the bone loss is not overly obvious on x-rays. This is unfortunate because it is at this time that treatment has the best outcome. It is also a relatively simple treatment.

Moderate periodontal disease requires more visits and higher costs. Unfortunately, there may be some consequences. Treatment is aimed at removing the infection, however, the consequence can be some gum recession and some residual sensitivity.

Advanced periodontal disease is serious. In these circumstances, we regularly refer our patients to a periodontist (gum specialist). It is at this stage that saving teeth becomes a priority. The treatment will be extensive and may even involve minor surgery.

So why is treatment of this infection so important?

In moderate and advanced cases of periodontal disease, it is quite common for there to be an area of infection ranging in size from the about the size of the palm of your hand, to double that size. The body does not like infection. If there was an infection this size on your leg, most medical practitioners would consider putting you in hospital on a drip. Unfortunately, the infection from periodontal disease is painless and out of sight.

Infection causes a number of things. It can raise your levels of fluid retention, it can cause preload on the heart, it can give regular showers of bacteria in to your blood stream, and it can stimulate your body to feel run down.

It is a well known and researched fact that periodontal disease is directly linked to heart disease. More and more cardiac surgeons are requesting a dental infection clearance prior to surgery. Often this may be expensive at a time when you don’t need any more stress.

Less known facts are that there are links with kidney disease, low birth weight babies and Alzheimer’s disease. Recently, one of the bacteria found in gums has been discovered to block our own immune system from recognising cancerous cells.

Please note that these are the beliefs of The Dental Junction. We encourage you to research the internet and draw your own conclusions. Regardless of the additional concerns with periodontal disease, treatment is aimed at keeping your teeth and keeping your breath acceptable in public.