Frequently Asked Questions


Is gum disease contagious?


What is periodontal disease?


Can periodontal disease be prevented?


Does heredity play a role in gum disease?


What is the treatment for periodontal disease?


How is periodontal disease detected?


What causes periodontal disease?


Is gum disease contagious?

Periodontitis is not contagious. Research has found that the patient's immune system plays a very important role in the onset of periodontal disease. Periodontitis can be linked, in many patients, to an immune deficiency in specific white blood cells. This deficiency may manifest its way as gum disease. Patients that have certain diseases, diabetes, for instance, are very susceptible to infections, thus more susceptible to gum disease.

 

Patients that are immunosuppressed, such as cancer patients that are undergoing chemotherapy, radiation therapy, or patients that have undergone organ transplantation, are exceptionally susceptible. Patients with certain viral infections, HIV being the best example in this category, are extremely prone to developing rapidly destructive types of gum disease.

 

Research studies of spouses or mates of patients that have periodontitis have indicated that unless the spouse or mate is susceptible to gum disease, periodontitis is not transmitted through intimate contact.

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What is periodontal disease?

Periodontal disease, also known as gum diseases, are a group of oral conditions characterized by inflammation of the gums, called gingivitis. The inflammation may progress to destroy the fibers that connect the teeth to the jaw, followed by the disintegration of the supporting bone, known as the periodontis.

 

When teeth are not brushed or flossed properly or frequent enough, a colorless, transparent sticky film, called plaque, comprised of millions of bacteria, begin to adhere to teeth all the way to the gum line. Because plaque's transparency makes it difficult to see, many don't realize that it's there. The presence of these microbes is irritating to the gums causing them to swell. If the plaque remains, the swelling may begin to force the gums away from the teeth, or to recede.

 

As the bacteria continue to accumulate, the plaque is transformed into a hardened mass called tartar which only dental professionals can remove. At this point, more bacteria will begin to gather in the space where the gums are infected causing pockets to develop. This too, may be difficult to see and will most likely require the expertise of a dental professional who will access the damage to your gums and supporting structures and treat those areas accordingly.

 

Unless the cycle is broken, more bacteria accumulate within the pockets, creating more inflammation and deeper pockets until the teeth start to loosen. Without treatment, the supporting structures will have receded to such an extent that the teeth may be lost.

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Can periodontal disease be prevented?

Yes. It cannot be stated emphatically enough: regular brushing and flossing prevent periodontal disease. Individuals should brush and floss at least once a day (preferably twice). Brushing removes bacteria from the outer surfaces of the teeth, and flossing removes bacteria from between the teeth where the bristles of the brush can't reach.

 

Visit your dentist regularly for a thorough examination and to have your teeth professionally cleaned. Your teeth will be a friend for life if they are properly cared for and maintained.

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Does heredity play a role in gum disease?

Yes, it does. Studies have shown that certain groups of African-Americans are more susceptible to periodontitis. A very defined group of Mediterranean Jews are also very prone to the development of gum disease. The susceptibility of being infected by these bacteria has also been demonstrated in children of parents that have gum disease.

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What is the treatment for periodontal disease?

Periodontal treatment is aimed at removing bacterial plaque and tartar, the cause of gum inflammation. After your periodontal status is assessed and classified, the hygienist will scale and root plane the surfaces of the identified sites to remove the source of infection. Root planing is a procedure requiring sophisticated instruments that not only remove plaque but also assist in visualizing hidden areas of infection.

 

If the infection is severe, the dental professional will break this procedure down into several visits and may use topical anesthetic to decrease sensitivity. Root planing generally takes about 60 to 90 minutes per visit. You will be instructed in the proper brushing and flossing techniques to prevent future outbreaks. The hygienist may ask to observe your techniques in order to make suggestions for improvement. It is extremely important to understand that consistent oral hygiene measures combined with scaling and planing are often enough to stop the progression of periodontal disease in its early stages.

 

Therefore, early treatment is important. Should the inflammation be so severe that pocket formation prevents the dentist or hygienist from visualizing and removing accumulated bacterial deposits, surgical intervention may be indicated. Periodontal surgery helps to control the inflammation by allowing better access for scaling and planing, removing damaged tissue, and establishing a basis for the possible administration of other therapies.

 

You may require a surgical procedure to regenerate the bone and gum attachment to your teeth. The level of your periodontal disease will determine the type of surgical procedure needed.

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How is periodontal disease detected?

The periodontal examination will begin with your dental health professional who will examine your teeth and gums looking for specific signs of periodontal disease. Dental professionals use a probe to determine the presence of pockets or spaces between the teeth and gum. The probe will be inserted gently until the base of the pocket is reached. He/she will measure and document the depth of each pocket according to the calibrations on the probe.

 

Also, the presence of plaque and calculus, bleeding, looseness of teeth, tooth alignment, jaw alignment and tooth decay will be recorded. You may require dental x-rays to determine if supporting bone has been destroyed. 

After your examination, your dentist or periodontist will share the results and offer treatment options for you to consider.

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What causes periodontal disease?

According to the latest research information available, the disease is caused mainly by the accumulation of bacterial masses, or plaque, at the gum line of the teeth, where the gum tissue attaches to the tooth surface. The destructive toxins and enzymes produced by these bacteria cause the gum tissue to detach and separate from the tooth, thereby forming a space, called the periodontal pocket.

 

Bacterial plaque continues in these pockets, causing them to deepen, destroying the underlying supporting tissues and, at the same time, hardening into calculus, or tartar. Certain people appear to be more susceptible to the destructive effects of bacterial plaque on the periodontal tissues than others, just as some individuals are more prone to heart disease and diabetes than others are.

 

There may likely be some hereditary predisposition involved, or other systemic factors that are not readily detectable.

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