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Periodontitis
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Periodontitis

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When to seek medical advice

If your gums are painful, swollen, bleed easily and are dusky red rather than pink in color, see your dentist. The earlier you see your dentist, the better will be your chances of restoring your gums into a more healthy condition, preventing the progression of periodontitis and potentially avoiding the loss of some teeth.

Screening and diagnosis

The key to the health of your gums is the depth of the groove between your gums and your teeth, called the gingival sulcus. Your dentist uses a metal tool (periodontal probe) to measure the depth of this groove, inserting the probe beneath your gum until he or she feels a slight resistance.

To screen for gum disease, your dentist measures the sulcus depth at multiple sites inside your mouth. A depth of 2 or 3 millimeters (mm) — about one-eighth of an inch — indicates healthy gums. If your dentist probes beyond 3 mm, this means a pocket has formed between your tooth and gum. A deeper pocket signals more serious gum disease.

Dental X-rays also help your dentist gauge the health of your gums by revealing any bone loss.

Complications

Having periodontal disease may put you at greater risk of:

  • Heart disease and stroke. Researchers have found a link between oral bacteria and clogged arteries and blood clots, which can lead to heart attack and stroke. Some researchers have found people with periodontal disease are more likely to have a heart attack or stroke than people with healthy mouths. The more severe the periodontal disease, the greater the risk.

  • Pregnancy complications. The risk of having a low-weight, preterm baby increases in mothers with periodontal disease.

  • Uncontrolled blood sugar. Diabetes puts you at greater risk of developing periodontal disease and other infections. In turn, oral infection makes blood glucose levels harder to control.

  • Pneumonia. If you have serious gum disease and lung problems, inhaling bacteria from your mouth into your lungs may result in pneumonia.

  • Osteoporosis. Researchers suspect a link between the loss of bone mineral density that occurs with osteoporosis and an increased susceptibility to oral bacteria. If osteoporosis causes the bones of your mouth to lose density, this may allow bacteria to further increase gum detachment and raise the risk of tooth loss. So in some cases, gum disease or tooth loss may be an indication of osteoporosis.

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This information is provided for general medical education purposes only and is not meant to substitute for the independent medical judgment of a physician relative to diagnostic and treatment options of a specific patient's medical condition.
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