Gum disease, gingivitis, or periodontal disease, is the chronic inflammation and infection of the gums and surrounding tissue. This progressive disease is the major cause of about 70 percent of adult tooth loss, affecting three out of four persons at some point in their life. It is caused by bacterial plaque – a sticky, colorless film that constantly forms on the teeth. Signs and symptoms include red, swollen or tender gums, bleeding while brushing or flossing, gums that pull away from teeth, loose or separating teeth, pus between the gum and tooth, persistent bad breath, change in the way teeth fit together when the patient bites, and a change in the fit of partial dentures.
The facts in a recently concluded dental malpractice case in Michigan are, unfortunately, far too common. In Judith Tice v Steven Heald, D.D.S., the patient, 60 years old, had been seeing his family dentist for 40 years with increasing problems of bleeding gums and lose teeth. The disease is typically diagnosed by the use of full mouth x-rays and “probing” the gums in an attempt to measure pocket depth and bone loss. In this case, the dentist failed to either diagnose or treat the progressing periodontal disease, which resulted in the extraction of all of the patient’s maxillary teeth. The case was tried to an arbitrator and resulted in an award of $300,000 to the patient.
If you are 40 or over, your dentist should take regular full-mouth x-rays (yearly) and should probe your gums, checking for pocket depths, at every visit. If your family dentists diagnose periodontal disease, you should immediately be referred to a periodontist, a dentist who specializes in treating periodontal disease. Remember, the disease cannot be reversed – only stopped with aggressive, prompt, and appropriate treatment.