– a widespread disease with potentially serious consequences
Periodontal disease – strictly speaking, called periodontitis – is a bacterial inflammation of the periodontium. In addition to the gums, this includes the jawbone and connective tissue. As a rule, inflammation of the gums (gingivitis) occurs first, which usually does not cause any pain. If the inflammation progresses to the tooth bed, it is called periodontal disease.
The triggering bacteria originate from dental plaque, which in turn consists essentially of food residues. Diet and dental hygiene are therefore decisive factors in the development of periodontal disease. In particular, when plaque calcifies into tartar, it forms a fertile breeding ground for bacteria. Smoking; acidic and sugary foods; and metabolic diseases such as diabetes mellitus, all contribute to an environment in which bacteria thrive.
The problem with periodontal disease – which, according to WHO estimates, affects 10% -15% of the population in its most acute form – is that its development is inconspicuous for a long time. This is another good reason for regular dental check-ups. At the very latest, when gums bleed repeatedly while brushing or biting, a medical examination should be carried out. This is often the first sign of periodontal disease. If it remains untreated, gums recede and the necks of the teeth are exposed, making the teeth appear longer. This is accompanied by greater sensitivity to cold and heat, as stimuli such as these now reach the dental nerves through the dentin. In later stages of periodontal disease, the jawbone recedes, the tooth in question loses more and more of its support, and it eventually falls out. Bad breath – caused by bacteria – is often a side effect of periodontal disease.
From heart attack to Alzheimer’s disease: potential hazardous consequences
If the barrier between the oral cavity and the bloodstream – formed by the gums – becomes permeable due to periodontal disease, this potentially endangers the entire bodily system. This is because germs can then enter the bloodstream, setting off inflammatory processes elsewhere as well. A large number of studies have proven or at least suggested such connections. For example, periodontal disease is said to promote vascular diseases such as arteriosclerosis, which in turn significantly increases the risk of a heart attack. In addition, a study has shown that the risk of death among women over the age of 50 increases significantly if they suffer from periodontal disease. Other possible secondary diseases include reactive arthritis and Alzheimer’s disease. Additionally, U.S. researchers have discovered a striking link to stomach cancer. This illustrates that periodontal disease should not be taken lightly.
For the purposes of diagnosis, gum pockets are examined, using a probe if necessary, and usually X-rays are also taken. These show the extent to which the jawbone has already been affected. The treatment of periodontal disease depends on the severity of the disease. In most cases, it is sufficient to thoroughly clean the tooth surface manually or with mechanical assistance and to kill the bacteria. In conjunction with this, work is usually also done to optimise dental hygiene at home. If periodontal disease is more advanced, the edges of the gums are surgically loosened and the affected tissue is removed from the pockets.
To remain enduringly free from periodontal disease, it is crucial to remove dental plaque. This in turn minimises germ infestation. In addition to toothbrushing, dental floss and interdental brushes should also be used if necessary. However, since not all plaque can be removed at home, a professional tooth cleaning appointment in our practice is sensible from time to time – ideally every six months.