Peri- means around, so periodontal maintenance is simply caring for the areas around your teeth. Regular cleaning and flossing prevent infections of the gums (periodontal disease), which—if left untreated—can gradually destroy the support of your natural teeth. Many factors cause gum disease, and they require different treatment approaches. Dental plaque is the primary cause of gum disease, though many people are genetically susceptible to plaque. By some estimates, up to 50% of American adults currently have early-stage gum disease.
Adults over 35 lose more teeth to gum disease than to cavities. 75% of older adults will eventually develop this condition. Brushing and flossing your teeth every day are the best ways to prevent cavities and gum diseases.
Bacterial plaque is the leading cause of gum disease, but it can be difficult to see plaque on your own. Plaque is a colorless film containing germs that stick to your teeth right at the gum line, and it forms as a natural part of your daily activities, like eating and drinking. With regular periodontal maintenance, you can remove these germs and help prevent this cause of gum disease.
If you don’t remove plaque by brushing your teeth and flossing, it hardens into a rough, porous substance called calculus (or tartar). Tartar buildup can be a sign of early gum disease. Once formed, it can only be removed by your dentist.
The bacteria found in plaque produce toxins that irritate the gums, which may cause them to turn red, swell, and bleed easily. These symptoms indicate the early stage of gum disease. Without regular periodontal maintenance, the irritation worsens. If the irritation is prolonged, the gums can separate from the teeth, causing pockets (spaces) to form. Eventually, as periodontal diseases progress, the gum tissue holding the teeth in can deteriorate and ultimately lead to tooth loss.
The best way to prevent gum disease is with a regular periodontal maintenance program—effective daily brushing and flossing as well as regular professional examinations and cleanings. Unfortunately, even with the most diligent home dental care, people can still develop some form of periodontal disease. That’s why it’s critical to still see a dentist every six months, even if you brush your teeth daily.