Periodontal Disease

Approximately 75% of all Americans have some form of periodontal disease, known by many as gum disease. These usually painless diseases often can go undetected until it is too late. If left untreated, gum disease can destroy the bone and tissue surrounding the teeth, causing them to become loose and, in some cases, painful. In addition, gum disease can cause bad breath and change the appearance of your smile. If the condition progresses far enough, you can lose your teeth. Common procedures include gum surgery, bone grafts, gum grafts, crown lengthening, and guided tissue regeneration.

During our years of practice experience, we have found it to be in the best interest of our patients if they thoroughly understand their periodontal problems, treatment, and the fees involved. Therefore, this letter is to briefly review our discussion at your initial consultation, for we do want you to understand clearly what is involved in the treatment of your problem.

Periodontal disease (pyorrhea) is an infection that begins in the gingival tissue (gums) and then spreads under the gums into the supporting jaw bone surrounding the tooth. In health, the gum is sealed to the tooth in a fashion similar to the seal between your skin and fingernail. This area is infected daily by plaque (a combination of bacteria and saliva that exists in everyone's mouth). If plaque is allowed to remain, then bacteria break down the seal. The infected pocket that results is impossible to keep healthy even with scrupulous care.

When the germs remain under the gums, several significant problems occur. There is frequently swelling and bleeding. These bacteria invade the root itself, changing normally glass-like smooth root surfaces to rough "barnacle-like" ones. This infects the gums even further. The plaque itself hardens into a spike-like irritant called calculus or tartar. The most important consequence of this action is further deterioration of the jaw bone around the tooth. Once this bone is lost, it cannot be replaced. Other factors that have a significant effect on the severity of this infection are smoking, diet, stress, grinding and/or clenching of the teeth, general health and resistance, medical problems, and hereditary factors.

The goal of periodontal treatment is to re-establish the seal of the gum to the tooth, creation of a stable bite, and the establishment and maintenance of a healthy mouth. Treatment is usually in two stages. The objective of the first phase is to promote as much healing as possible by cleaning out the infection from under your gums. Before you get involved in the active treatment, we want to be sure that you can properly care for your mouth. We will, therefore, teach you a technique to remove the plaque daily with proper use of floss, brush, and rubber tip. Also, we will take a special set of periodontal x-rays to accurately measure the amount of bone support that has been lost.

The rough root surface must be smoothed to produce a glass-like surface. This is called root planing. Removal of tartar or calculus is called scaling. The inner lining of the pocket is diseased and must be removed to allow the gums to heal properly. This is called curettage. These procedures do not involve surgery and are done in one-quarter to one-half of the mouth at a time. Novocaine is used so that there is very little (if any) discomfort, usually no more than experienced with a routine filling.

When these treatments are completed, the infection should be under control. After this, you can return to your normal activities, including work. We will then carefully reexamine your mouth to evaluate your healing response and determine if any damage to the bone support or gum seals exists. In areas where seals have been reestablished, no further treatment is necessary. Where they have not, they cannot be kept clean and healthy; and we will have to consider the secondary phase of therapy.

The objective of this second phase of treatment is to reestablish healthy seals by minor surgical procedures. The surgery is very delicate and done in small areas at a time, in the office, using "Novocaine." You will not feel any discomfort during the procedure but may be uncomfortable for a few days after. However, this is usually controlled by some mild pain medication that will be prescribed. The exact amount of discomfort you will experience cannot be predicted because everyone is, of course, different. However, we definitely expect that you should be able to carry out your normal activities the following day.

If we jointly decide not to go ahead with pocket elimination, any seals that are still open will become reinfected, allowing the disease process and bone loss to continue. In these cases, we usually recommend that the patient return every three months, so a specially-trained hygienist can clean out these infected pockets. This is an attempt to maintain the highest level of health for what we call a "holding period" until the secondary treatment can be initiated.

Since essentially we can only repair damage in your mouth and plaque returns daily, our long-term goal is prevention. MAINTENANCE becomes primarily the patient's responsibility and is THE KEY TO LONG-TERM DENTAL HEALTH AND PREVENTION OF DISEASE.

No treatment will be started until you understand the problems that exist, how they should be treated and the cost involved. The fee for the initial treatment can usually be accurately predicted at the first appointment. However, because it is impossible to predict one's healing response, it is impossible to predict exactly how much surgical treatment may be needed and the cost involved. This will be done before any additional treatment is initiated.

Periodontal therapy can achieve a great deal in prolonging and maintaining the health of your teeth and their supporting tissues (our philosophy of treatment is to inform before we perform). Our goals are to establish health and function and help you maintain it. When your treatment is completed, your mouth should be healthy with all damage repaired. We want you to be able to prevent this sort of problem from returning and retain as many teeth as possible for the rest of your life.