Gum Disease

Diagnosis • Treatment • Maintenance

What is gum disease?
Gum disease, also known as periodontal disease, is a bacterial infection in the gums and jawbone that support your teeth. As the infection begins, the gums separate from the teeth forming pockets, which trap more bacteria, leading to a worsening of the infection.

How is gum disease diagnosed?
First, we look at the gums and assess their color, contour, and consistency. Red, swollen, and spongy gums are signs of infection. Second, we measure the depths of the gum pockets around the teeth at six critical locations for each tooth. We are supposed to have shallow pockets around our teeth, and they should not be deeper than 3mm (1/8 inch). Just as you floss below your gumline, we place a small ruler below your gumline and measure the gum pocket depth. The entire process takes 5 minutes and is very gentle. Third, we look at your x-rays and measure the amount of bone loss gum disease has caused around each tooth.

Whom does gum disease affect?
75% of adults get gum disease. Gum disease is the most common disease among adults today. It is more common than cancer, heart disease, or stroke combined. Gum disease is the leading cause of tooth loss in adults.

What are the dangers of gum disease?
Gum disease dangers range in scale from the early stages of bad breath and unsightly swollen or bleeding gums, to the advanced stages of tooth loss and dangerous infection. In addition to the effects it can have on your teeth and gums, numerous studies have shown gum disease to be related to the risk of stroke, heart disease, premature birth and low birth weight babies, osteoporosis, respiratory infections, and diabetes.

How can gum disease be prevented?
While gum diseases are very common and have many adverse affects on your health, the good news is that they usually can be prevented if you don’t have it, and controlled if you do have it. A simple home care routine of brushing and flossing complimented by regular professional cleanings can provide you with a lifetime of healthy teeth and gums. If you already have gum disease, Dr. Lockwood and your hygienist will prescribe for you a special routine that will place you on your way to a healthy recovery. Your teeth can last a lifetime, and with special attention they will do just that.

What are the two most common types of gum disease?
Gingivitis and periodontitis. Gingivitis is an infection of the outer surface of the gums. The gums are red, puffy, and bleed when brushed and flossed. The gum pockets are 3mm or less. No bone loss has occurred. This type of gum disease is reversible with proper home care and preventive cleanings. Periodontitis is an infection below the gumline in the gum pocket and jawbone. Gum pocket depths are 4mm or more. Bone loss has occurred. This type of gum disease is irreversible, but often can be controlled with proper home care and special teeth cleaning procedures. Sometimes, gum surgery is needed to reach tartar far below the gumline, or for other reasons. We have no cure for this disease, but it can be well controlled in most people.

How is gum disease treated?
Gingivitis is treated with proper home care and preventive cleanings. Periodontitis is treated in 2-3 steps, depending on the severity of the disease.

Step 1 is called scaling and root debridement.
This is a special type of cleaning that removes plaque, tartar, stain, and an infected germ layer on the teeth.

Step 2 is gum surgery, if needed.
Typically only pockets deeper that 5-6mm need gum surgery, and this is determined on a case-by-case basis.

Step 3 is maintenance.
There is a special type of cleaning called a periodontal maintenance cleaning and is intended for people who have a history of gum disease, but no current flare-ups of the disease. This cleaning removes plaque, tartar, and stain from the teeth and roots both above and below the gumline. Decades of research have shown that this type of cleaning is most effective at 3-month intervals, and patients who have a history of periodontitis should have their teeth cleaned this often.


What sorts of things affect the severity of gum disease?
Contributing factors to gum disease include genetic tendencies, tobacco use, hormones, certain medications, stress, diabetes, poor nutrition, teeth grinding, poor health, poor brushing and flossing habits, and not having your teeth cleaned regularly.

What medical problems is gum disease linked to?
Studies link gum disease to stroke, heart disease, premature birth and low birth weight babies, osteoporosis, respiratory infections, and diabetes.

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Grand Rapids, MI 49525