Bacteria form and spread into the teeth and facial bones, causing teeth to loosen and even fall out. Infections and abscesses may develop when the bacteria in plaque and tartar accumulate. Periodontitis usually affects adults but can also develop in children.
Practicing good oral hygiene habits, such as daily brushing and flossing, help to prevent periodontitis. Seeing a dentist twice a year for a professional cleaning is also an important prevention factor.
Plaque, a film composed of bacteria, may build up on the teeth and gums, hardening underneath the gums and creating tooth decay. Tartar forms and cannot be removed by brushing and flossing. Tartar must be removed by a professional dental cleaning.
Factors other than poor oral hygiene may be responsible for periodontitis. Poor nutrition and usage of tobacco, alcohol, and illegal drugs are risk factors that can be controlled.
Certain conditions, such as diabetes and autoimmune diseases, are also contributing factors. Having a low birth weight as an infant may increase the chance of periodontitis. Hormonal changes from pregnancy or menopause may predispose women to developing periodontitis.
Symptoms of periodontitis include loose teeth, bad breath, and a poor taste in the mouth. There may be increased spacing and gapping between teeth. Healthy gums are usually pink, but periodontitis may cause gums to become red or purple.
Gums may also appear shiny and swollen or bleed easily. Gums are tender to the touch and may begin to recede, causing the teeth to appear longer. Plaque and pockets of bacteria and pus may form at the base of the teeth. If left untreated, abscesses and infections may develop and spread to other teeth, the jaw, or the soft tissues of the face. If the infection is severe enough, teeth may fall out completely.
Periodontitis has been linked to vascular problems as well. Risk of heart attack, coronary artery disease, stroke, and diabetes increases. Bacteria from the infected teeth can create systemic inflammation when they reach the bloodstream through the gums. Systemic inflammation can cause blood vessels to constrict, making conditions less conducive for healthy circulation.
Treatments may vary depending on the severity of the periodontitis. A dentist may take an x-ray or radiographic film of the teeth to better examine tooth decay and plaque formation under the gums and into the facial bones.
Teeth will be cleaned and home-care such as brushing and flossing will be crucial. Professional dental cleanings may be recommended more than twice a year, and these may include procedures such as scaling and root planing, which remove tartar and bacteria. Antibiotics may be prescribed in order to control bacterial infection. In more severe cases, surgery may be required, or teeth may need to be removed so infection does not spread.
Though the consequences can be severe, periodontitis is manageable with proper dental care. However, if proper oral hygiene is practiced, it can be completely avoided.