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Periodontitis, or gum disease, is a common infection that damages the soft tissue and bone supporting the tooth. Without treatment, the alveolar bone around the teeth is slowly and progressively lost.
The name “periodontitis” means “means inflammation around the tooth.” Microorganisms, such as bacteria, stick to the surface of the tooth and in the pockets surrounding the tooth, and they multiply. As the immune system reacts and toxins are released, inflammation occurs.
Bacterial plaque, a sticky, colorless membrane that develops over the surface of teeth, is the most common cause of periodontal disease. If plaque is not removed, it can harden to form tartar or calculus.
Most cases of periodontitis are preventable through good dental hygiene.
Periodontitis always begins with inflammation of the gums, known as gingivitis. This is not always easy to recognize but one of the first signs that you may become aware of is bleeding from the gums when you brush your teeth. The gums may look red and swollen and you might notice a discolored layer of bacterial plaque on the teeth.
Left untreated, gingivitis may progress to periodontitis, often without any obvious signs to alert you. However, some changes that you might experience over time include increased bleeding from the gums, which may be provoked by brushing or eating, or even be spontaneous; bad breath; changes in the positioning of the teeth in the jaws; lengthening of the teeth (gum recession); and possibly pain. Bleeding from the gums may be less noticeable in smokers, because of the effect of nicotine on blood vessels, and so the disease process may be masked.
It often happens that the presence of periodontitis is not recognized by an individual until they are 40 or 50 years of age, by which time a great deal of damage may have occurred. However, a dentist can detect signs of the disease at a much earlier stage during a routine examination and can monitor your periodontal status using a special assessment known as the Periodontal Screening Index.
In most cases, the development of periodontitis starts with plaque — a sticky film composed mainly of bacteria. If left untreated, here’s how plaque can eventually advance to periodontitis:
Factors that can increase your risk of periodontitis include:
Periodontitis can cause tooth loss. The bacteria responsible for periodontitis can enter your bloodstream through the gum tissue, possibly affecting other parts of your body. For example, periodontitis is linked with respiratory disease, rheumatoid arthritis, coronary artery disease, and problems controlling blood sugar in diabetes.
The best way to prevent periodontitis is to follow a program of good oral hygiene, one that you begin early and practice consistently throughout life.
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