Periodontology: an overview
Periodontology is a specialization within the practice of dentistry, one of only nine specializations to be officially recognized by the American Dental Association. The 8,200 practicing members in the United States cover the maintenance and treatment of issues that affect the grouping of hard and soft tissues that surround the teeth, which are collectively known as the periodontium.
The periodontium is considered a particularly important structure in the context of oral and overall health. It is multifunctional, working to keep your teeth securely in place on your jaw and acting as a shock absorber when you bite and chew, which helps protect your teeth from damage. The periodontium also holds your teeth in a stable position so that they can effectively work together to chew and grind up food when you eat.
Because the periodontium plays a direct role in a human’s daily activities and oral health, experts in periodontology recommend regular maintenance, such as daily brushing and flossing. Poor oral health is often the first indicator of other problems within the body, and the periodontium is no exception; it acts as a warning sign for many systemic diseases, including both types of diabetes, coronary artery disease, cardiovascular disease, and retinopathy.
Periodontitis and Other Periodontal Complications
On top of serving as an indicator of general health and a warning for other systemic conditions, the periodontium is susceptible to its own set of ailments, the most common of which is Periodontitis.
Periodontitis, also known as Gum Disease, is a common and treatable condition caused by a type of bacteria unique to the periodontium. This periodontal bacterium is always present and only becomes problematic when the conditions are right for it to rapidly multiply, causing inflammation in the periodontium and surrounding areas, which when left untreated can have serious effects on one’s health. Inflammation-causing bacteria can spread deep below the gum tissue to the roots of your teeth and jaw bone, causing damage to ligaments and bone loss, a combination can lead to loosened teeth, a weak bite, and eventual tooth loss as well as infection, painful dental abscesses, and a weakened immune system.
If detected early, this process can be stopped and even reversed, returning the periodontal structure to optimal health through professional treatment. These treatments include cleanings and prescribed medicated mouthwash, but it’s important they be taken in the early stages of the disease. Despite this, many patients are unaware of the disease’s progression for months or even years, which is why regular checkups with a dentist can be so preventative.
Aside from the rare cases where people are suffering from genetic conditions that predispose them to poor oral health, periodontal health is well within control, even if it’s not in the best condition as it stands.
Having good oral hygiene is the best place to start if not suffering from severe periodontitis, in which case one should visit the dentist first. Good oral hygiene includes thoroughly cleaning the surface of the teeth with a toothbrush that is in good condition and toothpaste twice daily, or in some cases immediately following meals. Be careful not to overbrush, however; this can cause damage to the gums and prematurely wear out the enamel. Take care in selecting a toothpaste too, and avoid whitening toothpastes, as they can cause tooth sensitivity for many.
Brushing one’s teeth regularly is a good first step, but it is not the only thing required to maintain good oral health. Additionally, it is recommended that humans floss our teeth once daily to clean the tight spaces that regular brushing can’t reach, as well as using an interdental brush to clean larger gaps where floss won’t suffice. Finishing your daily routine with an antibacterial or prescribed medicated mouthwash is a great final step, as it slows the growth of bacteria and can reduce inflammation in the gums.
Experts say that regularly visiting the dentists for checkups and cleanings is just as important as a daily routine, giving you the best chance of catching oral health issues early and fixing them before any lasting damage can be done.