Periodontal (gum) disease is an infection caused by bacterial plaque, a thin, sticky layer of microorganisms (called a biofilm) that collects at the gum line in the absence of effective daily oral hygiene. Left for long periods of time, plaque will cause inflammation that can gradually separate the gums from the teeth — forming little spaces that are referred to as “periodontal pockets.” The pockets offer a sheltered environment for the disease-causing (pathogenic) bacteria to reproduce. If the infection remains untreated, it can spread from the gum tissues into the bone that supports the teeth. Should this happen, your teeth may loosen and eventually be lost.
When treating gum disease, it is often best, to begin with a non-surgical approach consisting of one or more of the following:
An important goal in the treatment of gum disease is to rid the teeth and gums of pathogenic bacteria and the toxins they produce, which may become incorporated into the root surface of the teeth. This is done with a deep-cleaning procedure called scaling and root planing (or root debridement). Scaling involves removing plaque and hard deposits (calculus or tartar) from the surface of the teeth, both above and below the gum line. Root planing is the smoothing of the tooth-root surfaces, making them more difficult for bacteria to adhere to.
As gum disease progresses, periodontal pockets and bone loss can result in the formation of tiny, hard to reach areas that are difficult to clean with handheld instruments. Sometimes it’s best to try to disinfect these relatively inaccessible places with a prescription antimicrobial rinse (usually containing chlorhexidine), or even a topical antibiotic (such as tetracycline or doxycycline) applied directly to the affected areas. These are used only on a short-term basis because it isn’t desirable to suppress beneficial types of oral bacteria.
If some of your teeth are loose, they may need to be protected from the stresses of biting and chewing — particularly if you have teeth grinding or clenching habits. For example, it is possible to carefully reshape minute amounts of tooth surface enamel to change the way upper and lower teeth contact each other, thus lessening the force and reducing their mobility. It’s also possible to join your teeth together with a small metal or plastic brace so that they can support each other, and/or provide you with a bite guard to wear when you are most likely to grind or clench your teeth.
Since dental plaque is the main cause of periodontal disease, it’s essential to remove it on a daily basis. That means you will play a large role in keeping your mouth disease-free. You will be instructed in the most effective brushing and flossing techniques, and given recommendations for products that you should use at home. Then you’ll be encouraged to keep up the routine daily. Becoming an active participant in your own care is the best way to ensure your periodontal treatment succeeds. And while you’re focusing on your oral health, remember that giving up smoking helps not just your mouth, but your whole body.
Often, nonsurgical treatment is enough to control a periodontal infection, restore oral tissues to good health, and tighten loose teeth. At that point, keeping up your oral hygiene routine at home and having regular checkups and cleanings at the dental office will give you the best chance to remain disease-free.
When advanced gum disease (periodontitis) develops, your teeth are in danger: At this stage, the ligaments and bone tissue that surround them are being destroyed, and you could even begin losing teeth! If the disease can’t be controlled by non-surgical treatments like cleaning and scaling, then periodontal flap surgery may be your best treatment option.
Flap surgery is today’s leading method for treating and repairing periodontal pockets. What are these “pockets?” They are areas below the gum line where gum tissue has detached from the teeth, resulting in an uncleanable space where harmful bacteria can proliferate. These bacteria cause inflammation of the tissues, resulting in sensitivity, bleeding, and pain. Left untreated, they can cause a host of problems including gum disease, loss of the tooth-supporting bone structure, and possibly even systemic (whole-body) problems.
When periodontal pockets develop, the first step in treating them is usually via cleaning and scaling (also referred to as root debridement) with a manual or ultrasonic instrument. If this isn’t effective, then periodontal surgery is considered. Flap surgery isn’t a cure for periodontal disease — but it helps create an environment that makes it easier to maintain your periodontal health. And even if you’re prone to gum disease, proper professional treatment and regular care at home can help keep your teeth healthy for as long as possible.
Flap surgery is sometimes performed to remove tartar deposits in deep pockets or to reduce the periodontal pocket and make it easier for you or your dental professional to keep the area clean. This common surgery involves lifting back the gums and removing the tartar. The gums are then sutured back in place so that the tissue fits snugly around the tooth again.
A pocket reduction procedure is recommended if daily at-home oral hygiene and a professional care routine cannot effectively reach these deep pockets. In some cases, irregular surfaces of the damaged bone are smoothed to limit areas where disease-causing bacteria can hide. This allows the gum tissue to better reattach to healthy bone.
1. Flap surgery is typically done under local anesthesia, sometimes accompanied by oral anti-anxiety medications; alternatively, it may be performed under intravenous conscious sedation. After anesthesia has taken effect, a small incision is made to separate the gums from the teeth. The outer gum tissue is gently folded back to give access to the roots and the supporting ligament and bone tissue.
2. Next, the inflamed gum tissue can be removed, and the tooth roots can be cleaned; if needed, the area may also be treated with antibiotics or other medications. Bone defects can be repaired with grafting material, and proper regeneration of the periodontal ligament can be encouraged by physical (barrier membranes) and chemical (growth factors) methods. Finally, the incision is closed and the procedure is completed.
3. Performed by an experienced hand, state-of-the-art flap surgery has an excellent track record and offers well-established benefits. It’s often the treatment of choice for relieving periodontal disease and helping to maintain your oral health — and preserve your teeth.
One major objective of flap surgery is to eliminate or reduce the pocket itself. To access it, a flap-like incision is made in the gum tissue. This allows diseased tissue to be removed from inside the pocket and provides access to the teeth’s root surfaces for a thorough cleaning, which helps to eliminate harmful plaque and calculus (tartar). Afterward, the “flap” is closed, sealing the area. This begins the healing process, which takes place rapidly.
Another goal is the regeneration of periodontal ligament and bone tissue which may have been lost to the disease. A variety of techniques may be used to accomplish this, including high-tech methods of bone grafting and chemicals referred to as growth factors. These approaches help restore the gums to their normal form and function and promote the healthy and secure anchoring of teeth.
Soft tissue grafts are sometimes performed to treat gum disease, or correct other abnormalities.
The procedure involves taking gum tissue from the palate or another donor source to cover an exposed root in order to even the gum line and reduce sensitivity; an exposed tooth root causes severe pain because it is exposed to extremes in temperatures or different kinds of food and liquids.
Once contributing factors for the gum disease are controlled, a soft tissue graft procedure will repair the defect and help to prevent additional recession and bone loss.