Within modern medicine, periodontology is a speciality within dentistry, which is used as a means of studying, assessing, and treating the supporting structures of the teeth, as well as the diseases and problems that can afflict them.
But what exactly is it that they do?
Taken from the Ancient Greek for ‘around’ (peri), and ‘tooth’ (odous), periodontology is focused on the supporting tissues and structures that hold the teeth together and in place.
These include several key components within the periodontium, including the gingiva, alveolar bone, cementum, and periodontal ligament.
Otherwise known as the gums, the gingiva is mucosal tissue that rests over the lower and upper jawbones (mandible and maxilla, respectively) within the mouth.
Also known as the alveolar process, the alveolar bones are the layers or strips of bone which connect the tooth sockets to the upper and lower jawbones.
These are covered by the gingiva and are an integral part of the oral cavity.
The term ‘alveolar’ takes its name from dental alveoli, the sockets found within the bones of the mouth.
The cementum is an especially calcified substance that coats the roots of the teeth.
This is a key substance in, as its name suggests, ‘cementing’ the teeth to the alveolar bones, holding them in place and making them strong.
Also known as the periodontal fibre, the periodontal ligaments (PDL) help to attach the teeth to the alveolar bone within which they sit.
It does this by inserting one side of itself into the cementum, and the other into the alveolar bone, creating a link between both surfaces and adding an extra source of rigidity and security.
Periodontology & Oral Health
Due to neglect, eating the wrong foods, and the natural wear and tear of daily life, the periodontal tissues take a beating from acidity, bacteria, plaque, and infection, just like the teeth themselves.
These afflictions are at the forefront of periodontology, and treating them quickly and efficiently is key to long-term oral and general health.
The health of the gums has a surprising amount of authority over general bodily health, and some particularly nasty gum diseases can be spread throughout the body (in blood and oxygen), causing serious complications.
Also known as gingivitis, gum disease is caused by bacteria entering the gums, causing inflammation, bleeding, tooth loosening, and even tooth loss – which, if left untreated, can progress to the more serious problems listed above.
Alveolar Bone Loss
If bacterial infections persist untreated for prolonged periods, they can spread to alveolar bones, causing bone decay and tooth loss.
Usually, with tooth loss, even severe tooth loss, dental prosthetics can be attached to the alveolar bones using dental screws – as seen on legendary ex-Pogues frontman Shane MacGowan, who for years went toothless, but who had new prosthetics installed in 2015 as part of a televised Sky documentary.
However, if there is too much damage to the alveolar bone and thus nowhere to attach the prosthetics, then this can mean that no such prosthetics can be attached.
There are several serious complications related to gum disease and they tend to manifest themselves if the bacteria is left untreated.
The most common are respiratory infections, such as pneumonia.
Due to the relationship the mouth has to the lungs and respiratory channels we use to breathe, this makes it easy for oral bacteria to be transported to the lungs, something that can grow and become more harmful over time.
Perhaps the most unusual of the complications, oral bacteria have been scientifically proven to cause cardiovascular problems, such as heart disease.
While this might seem unbelievable, and the two might seem unconnected, you have to consider that the blood travels to every part of the body, and seeing as bleeding gums are a common side effect of gum disease, it stands to reason that the bacteria could then travel to the heart.
Periodontal Disease: Signs & Symptoms
When periodontal diseases present themselves, it can be worrying, especially if it has gone unchecked.
However, there are several early warning signs that can be distinct indicators of your oral health.
One of the most common and easily dismissed symptoms of gum disease is bleeding gums.
While the sight of blood leaving the body would normally be cause for concern, most of us tend to ignore it – blaming heavy-handed brushing techniques or sporadic sensitivity.
However, this is one of the earliest warning signs that something is wrong and should be reported to your dentist immediately to halt the process.
While receding gums happen naturally with age, a rapid recession (especially at a young age) can be a sure sign that something is not right with your gum health.
Acid erosion and bacterial decay can cause this recession, as can frantic, aggressive brushing techniques.
However, the best way to stop this process is to adopt better cleaning regimens (such as flossing and mouthwash), use toothpaste aimed at gum disease and recession, and see your dentist for advice on how to proceed.
Bad breath can also be a sign that something is wrong. Things don’t smell bad without a reason, and halitosis is your body’s way of saying that improvements need to be made to your oral health.
If your teeth have moved forward, backwards, or side to side within the gingiva, then this could be a sign of gum disease.
And there we have it, everything you need to know about periodontology and what a periodontist does in modern dentistry.
If you are struggling with any of the symptoms on this list, or if you just need some advice regarding a dental problem, then consult your dentist.
They are well versed in oral health and are to offer helpful tips, tricks, and advice on how to proceed.