The word periodontal literally means "around the tooth." Periodontal disease is a chronic bacterial infection that affects the gums and bone supporting the teeth. Periodontal disease can affect one tooth or many teeth. It begins when the bacteria in plaque causes the gums to become inflamed. If left untreated it can lead to tooth loss.
Gingivitis is the mildest form of periodontal disease. It causes the gums to become red, swollen, and bleed easily. There is usually little or no discomfort at this stage of the disease process. Gingivitis is usually a result of ineffective oral hygiene. It is usually reversible with professional treatment and good oral home care.
Periodontitis can result from untreated gingivitis. Bacterial plaque accumulating below the gumline produces toxins. These toxins stimulate a chronic inflammatory response in the gingival tissues. The body essentially turns on itself - breaking down and destroying the bone supporting the teeth. Gums separate from the teeth, forming "pockets" which are spaces between the teeth and gums. As the disease progresses, the pockets deepen and more bone and supporting tissues are destroyed. Teeth can become loose and may have to be removed while only mild symptoms may be noticeable.
Infections in the mouth can play havoc elsewhere in the body. Periodontal bacteria enters the bloodstream and can influence other organ systems. There is an association between periodontal disease and other chronic inflammatory conditions such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease and Alzheimer's disease. Evidence suggests that people with periodontal disease are at a higher risk for experiencing fatal heart attacks and strokes, preterm births and respiratory disease.
Tobacco use is a signifant risk factor in the development and progression of periodontal disease.