Of the many reasons to practice good dental health care, one of the biggest is to avoid developing periodontal gum disease.  Periodontal gum disease is a progressive infection of the gum tissue that gets worse the longer it goes untreated.  It is important to treat periodontal disease in its early stages before it progresses and causes more damage to your gums and teeth.  Having an awareness of the warning signs and symptoms of periodontal disease and reacting to them can help you prevent the disease or stop it in its early stages.

Stages of Gum Disease

Periodontal gum disease starts as an infection of the gums but it can lead to a complete breakdown of the tissue and deterioration of the surrounding jawbone.  The infection is caused by bacteria and plaque that form a biofilm on the teeth which triggers chronic gum inflammation.  Until this biofilm is reduced or removed, the disease will continue to develop into its progressive stages:

  • Gingivitis: Gingivitis is the first and mildest stage of periodontal gum disease and it is also reversible.  The main symptoms of gingivitis are red, swollen, or inflamed gums from plaque build-up and eating or brushing may cause the gums to bleed easily.  Gingivitis can be reversed with effective home dental care and professional treatment to remove the biofilm and plaque build-up.  It is important that gingivitis is recognized and treated in this stage because it has not yet gone deep enough to damage bone and connective tissue.  Poor hygiene is the most common cause of gingivitis and it may appear during puberty, pregnancy, times of stress, and menopause.
  • Periodontitis: In this next stage of periodontal gum disease, the infection goes beyond just the gum tissue to affect the bone that supports the teeth.  As the bacteria penetrates deeper past the gum line, the gums begin to separate from the teeth forming periodontal pockets that allow even more invasive bacteria to get below the gum line.  The plaque and bacteria formed in these pockets causes the bone and connective tissues to erode and the teeth to shift or loosen.
  • Advanced Periodontitis: In this stage, the disease has progressed so much that the fibers and bone that support the teeth are completely deteriorated.  Half or more of the supporting bone is broken down and will not grow back naturally and the teeth may loosen or fall out.  Treatment for advanced periodontitis involves deep root cleanings and surgical intervention that may include grafts of tissue or bone, growth factor or antibiotic placement, open flap surgery, or tooth removal.

Warning Signs

Identifying periodontal gum disease and getting treatment early is the best way to avoid the more serious affects of the disease.  Make sure to familiarize yourself with these warning signs and take proper action when one is discovered:

  • Swollen Gums: The most common symptom, swelling is caused when the blood brings healing components to the infected area.  The gums will remain swollen until the causal plaque and bacteria are removed.
  • Bleeding Gums: Swollen gums will bleed much more easily from brushing or eating.
  • Periodontal Pockets: These pockets start forming around the teeth as the tissue becomes separated and will only get deeper without professional help.
  • Infection and Pus: As the periodontal pockets get deeper, an infection forms that causes the gums to release pus.
  • Exposed Roots: As the gum tissue erodes, the root of the teeth become exposed and make them look as if they are longer than normal.
  • Consistent Bad Breath: This may be a symptom of other medical conditions but it is also a common symptom of advancing periodontal disease.
  • Loose or Moving Teeth: As more of the bone and support tissues deteriorate, the teeth become loose and may shift or fall out.