Your body, especially your mouth, is home to millions of bacteria. In most cases, as long as you practice good dental hygiene by brushing and flossing daily, you'll keep the bacteria in check. However, under other circumstances, the bacteria can become a problem if it's allowed to grow unchecked. When this happens you may experience periodontitis, a form of gum disease that can range in severity from minor gum inflammation to serious damage to the soft tissue that supports your teeth. If your dentist has informed you that you have periodontitis, here's what you need to know.
You get periodontitis when plaque and tartar have remained on your teeth some period of time. Plaque is a sticky biofilm of bacteria that grows on your teeth. When this film isn't removed for some time, it becomes hard, or calcified, making it difficult to remove through brushing alone. Once it hardens, it is called tartar. Plaque and tartar harbor lots of bacteria that can then grow and spread below the gum line where they can damage important structures of your teeth. Once it advances below the gum line, it's called periodontitis.
Various risk factors increase your chance of developing periodontitis, and not all of them are under your control. For example, diabetes is a major risk factor for periodontitis, especially poorly controlled diabetes. A major lifestyle factor for developing periodontitis is smoking. In addition, there is some evidence that genetics plays a role in your risk of periodontitis, and some medications can also increase your risk. Other risk factors include hormonal issues and conditions that suppress the immune system, which prevents your body from being able to control the growth of bacteria.
The good news is that periodontitis is treatable. The best treatment options for you depends on how advanced your situation is. For many people, non-surgical treatment such as scaling and root planing is enough to get periodontitis in check and heal the gums. More serious cases of periodontitis may require surgical intervention.
If your doctor recommends scaling and root planing, know that it is common and involves using special instruments to remove the tartar and plaque from your teeth and below your gum line and reshaping the root surface to limit further bacterial growth. Surgical intervention may involve making an incision your gums and lifting them back up, as advanced periodontitis causes the gums to pull away from the teeth. Your dentist will discuss your options and determine the best course of action.