Periodontal Definitions

  • Calculus: Plaque bacteria that were never removed completely with brushing and flossing. The hard deposit of mineralized plaque that forms on the crown and/or root of the tooth. Also referred to as tartar.
  • Gingiva: The soft tissue that covers the jawbone. Also referred to as the gums.
  • Gingivectomy: The surgical removal of gingiva (gum).
  • Gingivitis: An inflammation or infection of the gingiva (gum tissue); the initial stage of periodontal disease.
  • Gingivoplasty: A surgical procedure to reshape or repair the gingiva (gum).
  • Graft: A piece of gum tissue or synthetic material placed in contact with tissue to repair a defect or supplement a deficiency.
  • Gum: See gingiva.
  • Periodontal: Relating to the tissue and bone that supports the tooth (from peri, meaning “around,” and odont, “tooth”).
  • Periodontal disease: The inflammation and infection of gums, ligaments, bone, and other tissues surrounding the teeth. Gingivitis (gums) and periodontitis (gums and bone) are the two main forms of periodontal disease. Also called gum disease or pyorrhea.
  • Periodontal pocket: An abnormal deepening of the gum crevice. It is caused when disease and infection destroy the ligament that attaches the gum to the tooth and the underlying bone.
  • Periodontal surgery: A surgical procedure involving the gums and jawbone.
  • Periodontics: The dental specialty that deals with and treats the gum tissue and bone that supports the teeth.
  • Periodontist: Dental specialist with expertise in surgically treating the effects of periodontal disease.
  • Periodontitis: Inflammation of the supporting structures of the tooth, including the gum, the periodontal ligament, and the jawbone.
  • Plaque: A film of sticky material containing saliva, food particles, and bacteria that attaches to the tooth surface both above and below the gum line. When left on the tooth it can promote gum disease and tooth decay.
  • Tartar: See calculus.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is periodontal disease?
Periodontal disease, also called gum disease, periodontitis, or pyorrhea, is a complex disease which can be acute or chronic with flare-ups and quiet periods, like any chronic disease. Periodontal disease involves the inflammation of the gum tissue, and the resulting destruction of the bone that holds the teeth in the jaw by the inflammatory process. It is the number one cause of tooth loss in adults. Periodontal disease also has implications for increased risk for other health problems.

What causes periodontal disease?
In its most basic form, the answer to this question is bacteria. There are over 450 different species of bacteria that can live in our mouths, some of which cause periodontal disease. The current understanding of periodontal disease attributes 50% of the destruction directly to the bacterial toxins and 50% to the inflammatory process that they trigger in our own immune systems.

Thanks to Mr. Bill Landers, President at OraTec for his expertise, review and comments.

Are there contributing factors in periodontal disease?
Yes: how effectively you clean your teeth, the type(s) of bacteria present, tooth position and alignment, your general health and resistance, saliva (amount, pH, viscosity), medications you may be taking, cigarettes and tobacco products are some of the most significant factors.

The importance of gum tissue.
The gum tissue around the teeth overlies the bone that holds our teeth in place. The top of the gum that is visible is approximately 2-3 millimeters (one millimeter is about the thickness of a dime) higher than the actual attachment of the gum to the tooth in health, making a space similar to a turtleneck collar. Within this space, bacteria live and multiply. These bacteria produce toxins that cause our bodies to respond in a localized reaction called inflammation. In periodontal disease, the fibers that attach the gum to the tooth are destroyed by the process of inflammation. Once these fibers are damaged, the bacterial infiltration can continue to deeper levels of the gum and bone typifying the advancing nature of periodontal disease.

What is gingivitis?
Gingivitis is inflammation of the gums and is apparent with red gums that can bleed upon touching (brushing and/or flossing). Because inflammation of the gums must occur before the bone is destroyed, gingivitis, or inflammation of the gums is the precursor to periodontal disease. Gingivitis may persist for years before the inflammatory process allows destruction of the bone to occur. The important thing to note about gingivitis is that it cannot be distinguished from periodontal disease simply by observation. To determine if someone has gingivitis or periodontal disease, a periodontal examination must be performed.


What is a periodontal examination?
A number of components contribute to a thorough periodontal examination:

periodontal probe

  • visual evaluation of the teeth and gums, including measuring the crevice depth around each tooth (periodontal probing)
  • x-ray evaluation of supporting bone, click here about