Periodontitis is the inflammation of the gums and the surrounding tissue. Along with tooth decay it is the most widely spread dental condition. It attacks the tissue that holds the teeth in place (the periodontium) and because it is not accompanied by any pain it often goes unnoticed for a long time.
The risk of contracting periodontitis increases with age. If left untreated it can result in tooth loss. The mouth is home to more than 600 types of bacteria, most of which pose no threat to your oral health. They form what is termed a biofilm — meaning plaque — on the tooth surfaces, the edge of the gum and interdental spaces. If plaque is not thoroughly and regularly removed it hardens and forms dental calculus, otherwise known as tartar.
Inflammation in the gums is known as gingivitis. The main symptom of gingivitis and the first warning sign is bleeding gums. The area where the gums meet the tooth forms a natural barrier which can often prevent bacteria from getting deeper into the gums. If gingivitis is left untreated, however, this protective wall becomes penetrable, and the inflammation can spread along the tooth to the bone and the periodontal ligament.
What happens next is a staged destruction of the tooth-bearing periodontium. As the gums recede part of the periodontium is destroyed. Next, something called a gum pocket forms. From this moment on yet more bacteria can enter. The body's own increased immune defences cause further destruction of the periodontium as they fight the bacterial attack. The gums recede even further as does the jaw bone. The tooth becomes loose. In the worst case the tooth may be lost — even without ever having been affected by tooth decay.