Periodontal Disease

Periodontal disease is very common and people may not even realize they have it until it’s too late. Proper dental care including regular visits to the dentist are critical in the prevention of this disease.

How do you define periodontal disease? Is periodontitis and gum disease the same thing?

Dr. Darren McKeever: In my opinion, periodontitis and gum disease are just 2 different terms for exactly the same thing. One is a fancy Latin word meaning inflammation around the tooth, that’s what periodontal disease is. It’s an extremely common disease. Some researchers would say right now at this point, 70% of the world’s population is suffering from periodontal disease. It’s very common, it’s usually caused by the accumulation of bacteria around the teeth. That’s what leads to the inflammation around the teeth.

What are some symptoms people experience that are clues they might have periodontal disease?

Dr. Darren McKeever: The scary part about periodontal disease is – we refer to it in dentistry – the silent killer. It’s like cancer, it doesn’t hurt until it might be too late. People don’t necessarily attribute some of the signs and symptoms to them having a disease. The most common sign that I find is either red or swollen gums that bleed upon gentle probing or flossing or even brushing. If your gums are bleeding at any time other than if they’ve been cut, you have periodontal disease. You have an inflammation around the tooth that has now resulted in a loss of integrity of the capillaries in that area.¬†That’s how blood is just literally flowing gently outward from the gums. The problem with that is bacteria is also now flowing back inward into your blood vascular system.

Another issue we see is some people complain of bad breath. Because that bacteria that is causing the problem is allowed to hang out on the teeth for a lot longer than it should be, that will result in that. In significant cases where the teeth may start to be getting loose, people may even notice they’re having pain when they’re chewing. The problem is not all these symptoms may be present. Not always are these symptoms something people might even notice without it even being made aware to them by a professional.

What can people do or in some cases not do to prevent getting periodontal diseases?

Dr. Darren McKeever: The most important factor I think in prevention and or treatment is you’ve got to clean your teeth. Brushing more than just once a day, 2 to 3 times a day. I tell patients all the time, “You can never brush too often but you can brush too hard.” In addition to that brushing does not clean between the teeth, only dental floss will clean between the teeth. You can’t rinse away what’s between the teeth, you have to drag that little string between your teeth to clean it in addition to that.

To prevent it, there are certain things that people do that aren’t good for the gums. Smoking, huge factor in that. Smoking lowers the oxygenation level in your blood. The bone around the teeth doesn’t like that so you’re more susceptible to gum disease. Another factor that people may or may not have control over, diabetes. Diabetes unfortunately can ravage the gums if the sugar is out of control. More often than not, the thing where we have the most control and the thing that’s most effective, cleaning your teeth. Not just at home, periodically with a professional.

Is there a link between periodontal disease and heart disease?

Dr. Darren McKeever: There is absolutely a link between gum disease and heart disease. The Mayo Clinic ran a study over 20 years ago that showed there was a suspicion of that. Over those 2 decades, there have been other organizations that have evaluated that. Everyone comes up with the same thing. As I said before, if blood is flowing out of the gums, bacteria can be floating into the bloodstream. That seems to cause some kind of reaction that we can’t specifically put our fingers on. It does cause damage to the blood vascular system, to the valves in your heart. It distracts your immune system. These are things that you really don’t need. If you can avoid those things simply by brushing, flossing, seeing your dentist or hygienist just a couple of times a year, I think it’s worth the investment.

Can you describe how periodontal disease is treated?

Dr. Darren McKeever: There’s a lot of variance in how it can be treated depending on the specific issue at hand. More often than not, it boils down to creating an environment that allows the teeth to be effectively cleansable. Teeth become roughened over time with tartar build up. Tartar is analogous to stucco. You really can’t clean it very well. By smoothing off the tartar from around your roots, you take the roots from that roughened stucco texture. Microscopically you take them to a linoleum type texture.

It’s a lot easier to clean linoleum than it is to clean stucco. The problem is if you start to lose bone and you start to create pocketing around the teeth it makes it a lot harder for you to clean. Sometimes you have to do surgical intervention to correct those issues. In my office, we try to do a non-invasive procedure where we actually clean those pockets out with a laser. That way you don’t have to have surgery. More often than not, the number one factor in treating periodontal disease is to help keep the teeth clean.

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If you are interested in speaking with Dr. Darren McKeever, visit or call 973-839-8180 to schedule an appointment.

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