Periodontal is a word meaning “around the tooth.” Periodontal disease is a condition in which the gums, deeper supporting tissue, and bone around a tooth or teeth become infected and inflamed. Periodontal disease includes both gingivitis and periodontitis.
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Periodontal disease is caused by an overgrowth of the bacteria that live naturally in the mouth. These bacteria are responsible for plaque, the sticky white substance that develops on teeth. When plaque stays on a tooth long enough, it hardens into a solid material called calculus or tartar. This material is more difficult to remove from teeth than plaque. Over time, the presence of calculus causes gum inflammation or gingivitis. Gingivitis is a mild form of periodontal disease, affecting the gums. It is almost always reversible with proper treatment.
If gingivitis is not halted through careful treatment, then the inflammation may spread below the gum line and affect the deeper tissues and bone that surround and support the teeth. This condition is known as periodontitis. Untreated periodontitis can destroy the bone and other supporting tissues, leading to tooth loss.
Many cases of periodontitis begin with gingivitis. However, it is possible for the deeper infection of periodontitis to begin without identifying gingivitis.
Periodontal disease is a serious condition that needs to be thoroughly and carefully treated by your dentist. A variety of studies suggest the possibility of an association between periodontal disease and:
- An increased risk of coronary artery disease
- An increased risk of stroke
- Problems controlling diabetes
- Increased lung infections, especially in susceptible people
- Premature or early delivery of pregnant women with periodontal disease
- Low-birth-weight babies of women with periodontal disease
The chance of developing periodontitis increases with age. Approximately 8.5% of people aged 20-64 have periodontal disease, and 5% of adults aged 20-64 have moderate-to-severe periodontal disease. Seventeen percent of people aged 65 and older have the condition. Unfortunately, studies suggest that only a fraction of people with periodontitis are aware that they have the condition and are receiving treatment.
Albandar JM, Brunelle JA, et al. Destructive periodontal disease in adults 30 years of age and older in the United States, 1988-1994. J Periodontol. 1999;70(1):13-29.
Gum disease information. American Academy of Periodontology website. Available at: http://www.perio.org/consumer/gum-disease.htm. Accessed August 17. 2016.
Gum (Periodontal) Disease. NIH SeniorHealth website. Available at: http://nihseniorhealth.gov/periodontaldisease/riskfactorsandprevention/01.html. Accessed August 17. 2016.
Khader YS, Albashaiveh ZS, et al. Periodontal diseases and the risk of coronary heart and cerebrovascular diseases: a meta-analysis. J Periodontol. 2004;75:1046-1053.
Periodontal Disease. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/OralHealth/periodontal_disease/. Accessed August 17, 2016.
Periodontal (gum) disease. National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research website. Available at: http://www.nidcr.nih.gov/DataStatistics/FindDataByTopic/GumDisease. Accessed August 17, 2016.
Last reviewed February 2021 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Last Updated: 4/6/2021