If you suspect you have periodontal (gum) disease, it's important to get a correct diagnosis and begin treatment as soon as possible. The sooner you begin treatment the better the long-term outcome.
Gum disease is a bacterial infection that's most often triggered by plaque, a thin film of food particles on tooth surfaces. Plaque buildup most often occurs when a person doesn't practice effective oral hygiene: daily brushing and flossing and professional cleanings at least twice a year.
The most common type of gum disease, gingivitis, can begin within days of not brushing and flossing. It won't always show itself, but you can have symptoms like swollen, red or bleeding gums, as well as bad taste and breath. You could also develop painful abscesses, which are localized pockets of infection within the gums.
If we don't stop the disease it will eventually weaken the gum attachment to the teeth, bone loss will occur and form deep pockets of infection between the teeth and bone. There's only one way to stop it: remove the offending plaque from all tooth surfaces, particularly below the gum line.
We usually remove plaque and calculus (hardened plaque deposits) manually with special hand instruments called scalers. If the plaque and calculus have extended deeper, we may need to perform another procedure called root planing in which we shave or “plane” the plaque and calculus (tartar) from the root surfaces.
In many cases of early gum disease, your family dentist can perform plaque removal. If, however, your gum disease is more extensive, they may refer you to a periodontist, a specialist in the treatment and care of gums. Periodontists are trained and experienced in treating a full range of gum infections with advanced techniques, including gum surgery.
You can also see a periodontist on your own for treatment or for a second opinion — you don't necessarily need a referral order. If you have a systemic disease like diabetes it's highly advisable you see a periodontist first if you suspect gum disease.
If you think you might have gum disease, don't wait: the longer you do the more advanced and destructive the disease can become. Getting an early start on treatment is the best way to keep the treatment simple and keep gum disease from causing major harm to your teeth and gums.
If you would like more information on the diagnosis and treatment of gum disease, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “When to See a Periodontist.”