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Periodontal literally means "around the tooth." Periodontal or gum diseases are serious infections affecting the tissues surrounding the teeth. These tissues include the gums and bone supporting the teeth. Without treatment, periodontal disease can result in tooth loss (See Stages of the Disease).
Periodontal disease is usually a slow, painless, progressive disease. Most adults with periodontal disease are unaware they have it. If diagnosed and treated early the teeth can be saved.
The main cause of periodontal disease is the accumulation of plaque bacteria (see picture at left). Plaque is an often colorless mass of bacteria that sticks to teeth, crowns and bridges, and other tissues in the oral cavity. Plaque is constantly forming on the teeth. Plaque irritates the gums, causing them to become red, tender, and swollen.
If not removed daily, plaque becomes the hard material known as tartar or calculus. Calculus cannot be removed by brushing and flossing alone. A dentist, periodontist, or hygienist must remove it manually to stop the disease process.
With time, the tissues that attach the gums to the teeth are destroyed by plaque and its by-products. The gums "pull away" from the teeth and pockets begin to form between the teeth and gums. Plaque and calculus continue to fill these pockets until eventually, the jawbone supporting the teeth is destroyed.
Other factors can modify how your gums react to plaque or calculus, thereby altering your body's response to the disease and affecting your overall health: