Teeth Cleaning/Gum Disease Illustration

The Basics of Gum Disease

Gum disease is an infection of the periodontal tissues that provide support for the teeth. These tissues include the gums, periodontal ligaments and the jawbone. Also called periodontal disease, this condition begins with bacteria-ridden plaque irritating the gum tissues. If this plaque is not removed with thorough brushing and flossing, it will turn into a hard substance called tartar. If tartar is allowed to build up around the gumline, it will break the healthy attachment between the gums and the teeth, allowing bacteria and plaque to collect under the gums and along the tooth roots. These openings at the gumline are called periodontal pockets.

The Stages of Gum Disease

Gum disease is a progressive condition with three stages:

  • Gingivitis: Plaque contains numerous strains of bacteria, many of which can irritate the gums and cause them to swell and bleed. This is the first stage of gum disease and is completely reversible.
  • Periodontitis: This stage of gum disease occurs when tartar along the gum line breaks the attachment of the gums to the teeth, causing bone loss and periodontal pockets. These openings between the gums and teeth trap food particles and bacteria that damage the structures holding the teeth in place. A therapeutic (deep) cleaning by your hygienist or dentist, which involves removing bacteria from the periodontal and root surfaces so that the gums can reattach to them, can help prevent more damage.
  • Advanced Periodontitis: In this third stage of periodontal disease, the gums, periodontal ligaments and bone sustain so much damage that the teeth may begin to loosen.

Oral-Systemic Health

The mouth is crucial to the overall health of your body. The oral bacteria that run rampant in gum disease can also enter the body and affect your overall health. Oral bacteria enter the bloodstream through damaged gum tissues, and researchers have found traces of these bacteria in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients and in the arteries of heart disease patients.

Professional Teeth Cleaning to Prevent Periodontal Disease

Most commonly referred to as “gum disease,” periodontal disease begins with plaque, the sticky biofilm that continually forms in your mouth. Brushing twice a day and flossing at least once daily can help you remove plaque before it causes any problems. If plaque is not removed within about 48 hours after it forms, it begins to calcify into tartar, a hard substance that cannot be removed with brushing or flossing. However, your dental hygienist can remove these stubborn deposits with a special instrument.

Non-Surgical Treatment of Gum Disease

The effects of gingivitis can be reversed with good brushing and flossing habits and a professional teeth cleaning performed by your dental hygienist or dentist. In the more advanced stages of periodontal disease, your dental professional will likely perform a scaling and root planing procedure, which consists of removing plaque and tartar below the gumline. Also called a deep cleaning, this procedure involves removing the bacterial toxins on the surfaces of the tooth roots to help the gums reattach to the teeth and eliminate periodontal pockets.