Periodontics is the branch of dentistry concerned with diseases of the periodontium – the tissues surrounding the teeth. Periodontics involves the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of periodontal disease, also known as gum disease.
Gum disease is a very common condition that can arise due to poor dental hygiene and result in severe consequences such as tooth loss if left untreated. A lack of sufficient brushing and flossing allows plaque to accumulate on the surface of the teeth. Plaque is a sticky substance containing bacteria that produce acids which damage the protective tooth enamel. The build-up of plaque also irritates the gums causing inflammation.
Early stage gum disease
This early stage of gum disease is known as gingivitis. Symptoms include swollen irritated gums. Another common sign of gingivitis is bleeding gums when the teeth are being brushed. If this early stage of gum disease is left untreated, plaque hardens into a substance known as tartar or calculus.
When the vicious circle of plaque accumulation continues, the condition can progress and become the advanced form of gum disease known as ‘periodontitis’.
In patients with periodontitis, long-term hardened plaque accumulation causes additional swelling of the gum tissue and bad breath. This swelling results in pockets forming beneath the teeth. The greater the accumulation of plaque, the greater the depth of the pocket.
This pocket means that gums start to recede, exposing more of the tooth and resulting in sensitivity and pain. If left untreated, the pocket eventually becomes so deep that the bone in the jaw is destroyed and teeth become loose and wobbly in their socket. They may need to be extracted or may fall out of their own accord when there is insufficient bone and tissue to hold them in place.
Advanced gum disease
Patients with advanced gum disease need more specialist treatment by a periodontist who will analyse each case and provide intensive treatment to restore gums and prevent any further damage.
Preventing gum disease
Regular dental examinations ensure that any signs of gum disease are spotted as early as possible and appropriate treatment can be received.
Gum disease can be prevented by a good oral hygiene routine of brushing the teeth twice a day and daily flossing. Visiting the dentist regularly (every 6 months) is also important for prevention; the dental hygienist can eliminate plaque that is tricky to remove at home and also remove hardened plaque using special tools. Remember, prevention is always better than the cure!