Periodontal (gum) disease is a chronic condition that can be controlled, but never cured permanently. It generally starts as inflammation of the gums (gingivitis) in response to plaque, which is composed of many different types of bacteria. If left untreated, these bacteria remain underneath the gums and can eventually affect the underlying bone, which is the main source of support for the teeth. This advanced stage of periodontal disease (periodontitis) is more difficult to treat and often causes irreversible damage of the supporting structures of the teeth, stressing the importance of detecting this condition early on.
Once the bacteria start to eat away at the bone, the gums can respond in one of two different ways: Swell up and enlarge, creating a “pocket”, at the base of which bacteria can sit out of reach of toothbrush bristles and floss and continue to cause destruction. Conversely, the gums can also respond to the bacterial assault by shrinking, leading to recession and exposure of the roots of the teeth. Both types of cases are treated in different ways but the final goal of any periodontal procedure is the same: reduce the amount of bacteria, decrease inflammation, and create an environment that can be maintained over time with good patient oral hygiene and consistent maintenance visits.