Gum disease or periodontal disease is generally a slow, chronic infection and inflammation of the gums and bone that support a person's teeth. It occasionally can flareup to become acute and painful or rarely be rapidly progressive, but most of the time people are not aware of the presence of the disease until its more advanced. It is caused by plaque or biofilm - a thick sticky film of bacteria that builds up on your teeth especially around the gum line. Plaque can harden over time to become calculus otherwise known as tartar. When a person's ability to clean his or her own teeth is inadequate and plaque is left undisturbed, the bacteria in the plaque matures, becomes more aggressive and starts invading into the gums.
During the early stages known as gingivitis, the inflammation is superficial and the gums can resolve back to a healthy state without any permanent damage. However when the disease becomes moderate or advanced, the damage to the underlying gums and bone becomes irreversible leading to deep pockets between the teeth and gums, bone loss, gum recession. This can then lead to further problems such as loose teeth, food packing between affected teeth, tooth decay and abscess formation, and ultimately the demise of teeth.
It is worth noting that two other major risk factors that make a person susceptible to periodontal disease are smoking and medical conditions such as diabetes. Rarely can genetics also play a part in a person's risk in developing this disease.
Especially if the disease is well advanced, trying to save the tooth is not possible and the affected tooth may have to be removed.
Your dentist or periodontist can further discuss with you options to replace lost or missing teeth such as dentures, bridges or implants. However the long term success of these teeth replacement options also depend on how successful patients can control their gum disease through their oral hygiene.
As periodontal disease can easily recur, it is important that patients undergo regular long term visits to their dentist, hygienist or periodontist for professional cleaning and maintenance. Depending on the patients' ability to clean their teeth and the severity of the disease, this may mean 3 monthly, 4 monthly or 6 monthly visits.
If you are unsure if you have gum disease or require treatment, come down for a friendly consult. It is always better to prevent than to fix these concerns from the start.