Periodontal Disease - What it is, What Causes it, and What Are the Treatment Options?

Colloquially known as gum disease, periodontal disease is a prevalent oral health condition. It’s a progressive disease that affects the supporting structures of the teeth. 

Periodontal disease can range from a mild inflammation of the gums (gingivitis) to more severe issues that lead to tooth decay, tooth loss, and further oral health complications.

In this article, we will cover everything you need to know about this common oral health condition, including what it is, what causes it, and what the treatment options are for those dealing with severe gum disease.

What is Periodontal Disease?

Severe periodontal disease impacts around 19% of the population (more than one billion people globally). It affects the tissues that both surround and support the teeth.

This oral health disease begins with the accumulation of plaque, a sticky film of bacteria that forms on the teeth. From here, the gums can swell, bleed, and become inflamed.

Irritation and inflammation of the gums characterize a condition known as gingivitis, which represents the initial stage of periodontal disease. When gingivitis advances, it causes damage to the bones and connective tissues supporting the teeth. As a result, the gum tissue begins to break down, leading to periodontal disease.

You might be wondering, ‘Is periodontal disease contagious?’

Periodontal disease isn’t contagious in the way that the flu is contagious. It isn’t spread through sneezing or split-second contact with another person. There is no evidence that exchanging saliva and mouth bacteria with a person who has periodontal disease significantly increases your risk of developing it.

Some research shows that children whose parents have advanced gum disease have a higher risk of developing oral health issues themselves, suggesting that there may be genetic and epigenetic components to periodontal disease.

What Causes Periodontal Disease?

Several factors contribute to the development and progression of periodontal disease. Poor oral hygiene is often the leading cause, although there are a number of risk factors associated with it.

Risk factors for periodontal disease include smoking, hormonal changes (such as during pregnancy or menopause), diabetes, metabolic syndrome, and certain medications, such as immunosuppressants. Having one or more of these risk factors increases the likelihood of developing gum or periodontal disease.

Some research suggests that there is a genetic component to periodontal disease, although lifestyle factors are thought to be more influential on oral health.

What Are the Treatment Options for Periodontal Disease?

The treatment for periodontal disease depends on the severity of the condition and you should visit your dentist for personalized treatment. However, the main goal of treatment is always to manage the condition to prevent further damage to the gums and supporting structures.

Here are some of the most commonly used and most effective treatments for periodontal disease.

Professional dental cleaning

For most people with a periodontal disease diagnosis, the first step of treatment involves professional dental cleaning. During this procedure, a dentist will use specialist tools to remove built-up tartar and plaque from around the teeth along the line of the gum.

Professional dental cleaning discourages further plaque build-up and removes unwanted bacteria from the mouth. This treatment alone may suffice for those with mild gum disease, but additional interventions are necessary for moderate to severe periodontal disease.

Antibacterial therapy

Depending on the severity of inflammation, dentists may prescribe antibiotic medications as part of the treatment for periodontal disease. In antibacterial therapy, either antibiotic medications or mouthwash can be used locally or systemically.

Antibacterial therapy may be beneficial as a series of sessions to eliminate unwanted bacteria from the mouth fully. Each person’s therapy plan will vary according to the severity of their condition.

Surgical intervention

For advanced cases of periodontal disease, surgical procedures may be necessary. Surgical options include:

  • Flap surgery (pocket reduction surgery) – a procedure where the gums are lifted (flapped) away from the teeth, enabling the dentist to remove tartar deposits from all areas of the teeth and gums.
  • Bone grafts – this procedure involves removing a small piece of bone from the patient (autograft) or a donor (allograft or synthetic graft) to place in areas where the bone needs to be regenerated. The graft provides a foundation to support new bone growth.
  • Tissue regeneration – this type of surgical procedure aims at promoting the regrowth and repair of lost or damaged gum tissue. Tissue regeneration is often preferred when there is excessive gum recession.
  • Soft tissue grafts (gum grafting) – a soft tissue graft procedure is similar to a bone graft but uses soft tissue autografts or allografts to augment the gum tissue. This procedure is ideal when there is severe gum recession or gum thinning.

The type of surgery a patient needs will depend on their unique circumstances. However, all surgical interventions can be highly effective at restoring the health of the gums and bone structure.