There’s only one way to effectively halt the progressive damage of periodontal (gum) disease — completely remove the bacterial plaque and hardened deposits (calculus) from above and below the gum line that are causing the infection. Although we can accomplish this in most cases with hand instruments called scalers, ultra-sonic equipment or both, some cases may require periodontal surgery to access and clean deeper “pockets” of infection.
As this damaging disease progresses, the supporting bone dissolves and the gum tissues will begin to detach from a tooth, leaving an open space known as a “periodontal pocket.” Besides plaque and calculus pus may also form as a result of the infection. All of this material must be removed from the pocket before healing and, hopefully, tissue reattachment can begin.
Shallow pockets near the gum line are usually accessed and cleaned with hand instruments. But deeper pockets (5 millimeters or greater in depth) may require a surgical procedure to completely clean the area also allowing for regenerative procedures to be done to regain attachment. This will reduce the depth of the periodontal pockets that will make them more accessible for future cleanings and maintenance. Flap surgery is a common type of such a procedure: a small opening (similar to the flap of a letter envelope) is surgically created in the gum tissue to expose the area of infection around the tooth root and bone.
There are also other types of periodontal surgery for repairing and stimulating regeneration of damaged gum tissues. Using grafts or other enhancements, these plastic surgical techniques are especially useful where gum tissues have receded above the natural gum line, leaving more of the underlying tooth below the enamel exposed to disease. These procedures have become more effective in recent years with the development of specialized technologies called “barrier membranes” and biologic growth factors. These materials have allowed bone grafts to be more successful as this technology is engineered for targeted tissue growth and repair, and then dissolve at an appropriate point in the regeneration process.
Periodontal surgery isn’t appropriate for every situation. Still, these procedures do play an important role for many patients to put a halt to the damage caused by gum disease.
If you would like more information on surgical procedures for gum disease, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Periodontal Surgery: Where Art Meets Science.”
Periodontal (gum) disease is a serious infection that can damage more than periodontal tissues — supporting bone structure is also at risk. Any bone loss could eventually lead to tooth loss.
To stop it from causing this kind of damage, we must match this disease's aggressiveness with equally aggressive treatment. The various treatment techniques all have the same goal: to remove bacterial plaque, the source of the infection, from all oral surfaces, including below the gum line. Buildup of plaque, a thin film of food particles, after only a few days without adequate brushing and flossing is enough time to trigger gum disease.
The basic removal technique is called scaling, using hand instruments called scalers to manually remove plaque and calculus (hardened plaque deposits) above or just below the gum line. If the disease or infection has advanced to the roots, we may use another technique called root planing in which we shave or “plane” plaque and tartar from the root surfaces.
Advancing gum disease also causes a number of complex problems like abscesses (localized infections in certain areas of gum tissue) or periodontal pockets. In the latter circumstance the slight normal gap between tooth and gums becomes deeper as the tissues weaken and pull away. This forms a void or pocket that fills with inflammation or infection that must be removed. Plaque buildup can also occur around furcations, the places where a tooth's roots divide off from one another.
It may be necessary in these more complex situations to perform a procedure known as flap surgery to gain access to these infected areas. As the name implies, we create an opening in the gums with a hinge, much like the flap of a paper envelope. Once the accessed area has been cleansed of plaque and infected tissues (and often treated with antibiotics to stop further infection), the flapped tissue is closed back in place and sutured.
To avoid these advanced stages it's important for you to see us at the first sign of problems: swollen, red or bleeding gums. Even more important is to reduce your risk for gum disease in the first place with dedicated daily brushing and flossing to remove plaque and regular dental visits for more thorough cleaning.
Gum disease can be devastating to your long-term dental health. But with diligent hygiene and early aggressive treatment you can stop this destructive disease in its tracks.
If you would like more information on treating gum disease, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Treating Difficult Areas of Periodontal Disease.”