The Facts About Periodontitis (Gum Disease)

What you will find on this page:

diagram of healthy teeth alongside teeth with periodontal disease

Periodontitis, also called gum disease and periodontal disease, is a serious gum infection that damages the hard and soft tissues that hold your teeth in place (NIH). And it’s more common than you might think. In fact, over 45% of adults age 30 or older have some form of periodontal disease (CDC). Left untreated, periodontitis can develop to a point where the bone that supports your teeth becomes damaged. If this happens, your teeth can loosen or even fall out.

What Causes Periodontitis?

Periodontitis occurs when gingivitis, the earliest stage of gum disease, goes untreated. Gingivitis occurs when plaque builds up on your teeth and is not removed. The plaque then turns into a hard material called tartar, which can spread underneath your gumline and cause gum inflammation and irritation. Gingivitis can be reversed with a professional dental cleaning, and brushing and flossing at home daily afterward. However, if gingivitis is left untreated, the continuous irritation and inflammation of the gums can lead to bone and tissue loss that can create deep pockets between your teeth. These pockets can fill with plaque, bacteria, and tartar.

Some people are at a higher risk for developing periodontitis. Poor oral hygiene is the leading risk factor, and smoking is one of the most significant risk factors and can also make treatment difficult.

Additional risk factors include:

  • chewing tobacco
  • poor nutrition
  • obesity
  • medications that cause dry mouth
  • diabetes, arthritis, and Crohn’s disease
  • pregnancy
  • genetics

Symptoms

Symptoms of periodontitis vary based on how advanced it is. Symptoms include:

  • red, swollen, or tender gums
  • gums that bleed easily
  • bad breath or bad taste that won’t go away
  • gums that have pulled away from the teeth making them look longer
  • pain when chewing
  • changes in the fit of partial dentures
  • loose or sensitive teeth
  • a change in the way your teeth fit together when you bite
  • new spaces that develop between your teeth

Treatment

There are different treatments for periodontitis. One treatment for periodontitis is a deep cleaning of your tooth root surfaces – called scaling and root planing. This treatment consists of your dental provider scaling (deep cleaning) beneath the gum line to remove tartar, plaque, and other bacterial toxins from periodontal pockets. In time, with proper post-treatment oral hygiene, you can reduce gum pain and discomfort and possibly avoid tooth loss. Other treatments include medications placed into gum pockets as well as surgical options.

It is important to note that if periodontal disease gets to the point of gum or bone loss, it becomes a lifelong condition that requires regular maintenance after your treatment to prevent a return of the disease and discomfort. Patients will require ongoing home care maintenance and more frequent visits to the dentist to sustain periodontal health.

Tips for Successful Treatment

The sooner you get treatment for periodontitis, the more successful your treatment will be. After your initial treatment, it’s important to maintain your oral health at home. This includes:

  • brushing at least twice a day with a soft-bristle toothbrush
  • flossing at least once a day or as instructed by your dental provider
  • limiting food and drinks high in sugar like soda, candy, and gum (sugar-free soda should also be limited because it is also harmful to the teeth, but chewing sugar-free gum is okay)
  • considering quitting smoking or tobacco use

To avoid tooth loss or further tooth loss, it is also important to schedule regular cleanings and checkups with your dental provider.

 

If you are a HUSKY Health or Covered CT member, it’s important to note that beginning January 1, limited benefits for periodontal treatment for adults may be added as a benefit. Scaling and root planing may be a covered procedure once out of every 36 months for members with certain medical conditions.

Periodontal treatment requires a commitment to oral health home care needed for healing. For that reason, those who qualify and undergo treatment will be asked to sign a Pledge and Action Plan prior to treatment. For more information, or to see if you are eligible for this treatment, ask your dental provider. If you need help finding a dental provider, contact our Member Services Center at 855-CT-DENTAL (855) 283-3682.