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People with beautiful smiles usually have healthy and attractive looking gums. The fact that a person would like to have an attractive smile seems to imply that they would want to have healthy looking gums also. However, periodontal disease can seriously damage an otherwise nice smile. Periodontal Disease, or gum disease, is an infection of the support tissues of the teeth. Many adults develop periodontal disease. This is a progressive disease that in its earliest stages may only be noticeable to a trained professional, dentist or hygienist. However, if not treated, this disease in its advanced stages can cause tooth loss as well as being a contributing factor to other serious diseases, including heart disease. By maintaining your gums and the support tissues around the teeth in good health, you should be able to keep your smile for an entire lifetime.

The Cause of Periodontal Disease

There is a film that develops over the surface of your teeth, which is called plaque and is primarily a layer of bacteria. These bacteria are capable of producing enzymes that irritate the support tissues of the teeth. Ultimately, these enzymes can damage the gum tissue, the periodontal ligament, and the bone to your teeth. If not removed on a regular basis, the plaque can harden into tartar (calculus), which is much more difficult to remove than plaque. Teeth that are not properly cleaned will have plaque and/or tartar build up along the gum line.

Factors Associated with Periodontal Disease

Some factors can increase the risk of developing periodontal disease and in turn, periodontal disease has been associated with the increased risk of other diseases. People at risk for periodontal disease are:

· Smokers or tobacco users
· Some systemic diseases
· Medications, such as steroids and salivary flow inhibitors
· Oral contraceptives and hormones
· Crooked teeth
· Dental bridges that do not fit properly

Symptoms of Periodontal Disease

It is possible to have periodontal disease without any noticeable signs or discomfort, such as the commonly occurring bleeding gums or tender swollen gums. However, there are several signs that most likely mean that you have some type of periodontal problem. You should see a dentist immediately if you have any of the following conditions:

· Gums that bleed easily
· Red, swollen or tender gums
· Gums that have pulled away from teeth
· Gums that appear to be short and leave the teeth roots exposed
· Pus that can be expressed upon pressure to the gums
· Bad breath that persists
· Bad taste in the mouth that persists
· Adult teeth that are either loose, move or are separating from each other
· Changes in the way you bite

Preventing Periodontal Disease

Always be sure to see your dentist on a regular basis, every 6 months is recommended, but at least on an annual basis. Your dentist will check for the telltale signs of periodontal disease. During your periodontal exam, the depth of the sulcus, the shallow crevice between your teeth and gums, is checked. A healthy sulcus should be 3 mm or less in depth. In tooth is checked, front and back, because the depth of the sulcus can vary from tooth to tooth, because some areas are more difficult to clean than others. For example, your back teeth are more difficult to keep clean than the front teeth. Prevention of periodontal disease consists of three major items:

· Regular visits and checkups with your dentist
· Professional cleaning of your teeth to remove plaque and tartar
· Regular brushing of your teeth – twice daily is recommended
· Cleaning between your teeth, known as flossing, once a day

Treating Periodontal Disease

Treatment of periodontal disease depends upon the stage of the disease and its progression. In the early stages, the disease is very treatable and even reversible. The dentist or dental hygienist can usually clean your teeth to remove any plaque that has accumulated—the teeth should be fairly normal after this process and with regular maintenance. More advanced disease may require scaling and root planing of the teeth to remove the plaque and the more difficult to remove tartar. This process is often referred to as PSRP (periodontal scaling and root planning). Medications may also be recommended to make sure the level of bacteria do not build up in your mouth. Antibiotics are also applied directly to treated gums to help kill bacteria that cause the disease. Today, lasers are used in modern periodontal therapy to gently and quickly kill bacteria and remove scar tissue from periodontal pockets, and the affected area is sealed as the laser passes through. Most patients undergo laser treatment without any anesthesia at all. The laser also promotes the reattachment of the gum tissue to teeth. In very severe cases where the gums have receded and the roots of the teeth are exposed, grafts from the roof of your mouth will have to be sutured into place to become new gums—this process is usually done be a specialist called a periodontist. Gum grafting can be avoided if the prevention methods listed above are used on a regular basis.