Periodontal disease (gum disease) is the name given to a group of problems which affect the gums. Periodontal disease leads to the destruction of the supporting structures of the teeth and if left untreated, can lead to tooth loss.
The cause of periodontal disease is plaque. Plaque is a sticky colourless film that constantly forms on the teeth. The toxins produced by the bacteria irritate the gums causing the gums to become inflamed. The gums appear red, slightly swollen and bleed more easily, especially when brushing. This early stage of gum disease is called gingivitis. Gingivitis is reversible with professional treatment and good oral home care.
Untreated gingivitis can advance to periodontitis. The key event is damage to the structures which attach the gums to the teeth. This allows the plaque to spread below the gum line and contaminate the root surfaces. The gums separate from the teeth, forming pockets (spaces between the teeth and gums). Toxins from the plaque stimulate the immune system and this produces an inflammatory response leading to further damage and destruction to the tissues and bone that support the teeth. Often, this destructive process has very mild symptoms. Eventually, teeth can become loose and may have to be removed.