Many individuals experience periodontitis, commonly known as gum disease. Associated with tooth loss and leading to other conditions like diabetes and heart disease, gum disease often starts off with periodontal pockets, which indicate an infection that could worsen.
What Are Periodontal Pockets?
In general, periodontal pockets arise as gingivitis progresses to full-blown gum disease. In their early stages, good oral hygiene can prevent or lessen the impact of these pockets. However, if ignored they can eventually cause bacteria to progress from the gums to the jawbone and contribute to tooth loss.
Healthy gums are firm, pink and situated close to your teeth, with only the top portion not attaching directly. The narrow space or flap here is known as the sulcus. On a daily basis, food particles and bacteria gather in the sulcus, and brushing and flossing twice per day can help dislodge them.
As gum disease progresses, this area starts to widen, creating a larger pocket where your toothbrush can’t reach and bacteria can flourish. Once a pocket measures 4 to 5 mm deep, gum disease has started to develop. As the pocket size progresses between 7 and 12 mm, the condition becomes more difficult to treat.
Along with enlarging periodontal pockets, you may experience a combination of:
- Red and swollen gums accompanied by pus
- Pain as you chew
- Bad breath that mouthwash can’t help
- Visibly receding gums
- Loose teeth
Behind the formation of periodontal pockets is gingivitis, which occurs when plaque – a sticky substance made of food and bacteria – starts to accumulate in your mouth. When plaque isn’t fully removed, it creates hard deposits known as tartar, which can only be removed with a professional teeth cleaning.
Tartar further contributes to gum redness and swelling, allowing periodontal pockets to form. As the gum tissue separates from your teeth, bacteria can progress below the gumline and eventually go after the bone.
Gingivitis that goes unchecked becomes periodontal disease and, at its most severe stage, periodontitis. During this progression, plaque attacks the gum tissue and starts to eat away at the bone, causing the gum pockets to become larger.
Diagnosing Periodontal Pockets
To determine the presence of periodontal pockets, your dentist uses a probe to measure the depth and size of the sulcus. One to three millimeters is normal, as a toothbrush can still reach this depth. Pockets deeper than 4 mm, particularly with redness, bleeding and inflammation, require a degree of treatment.
If your dentist suspects your periodontal pockets are accompanied by bone loss, X-rays will be requested to determine the degree of severity.
Factors Contributing to Periodontal Pockets
Those who don’t brush and floss at least twice a day have a higher risk of developing periodontal pockets. This worsens if you:
- Regularly consume sugar
- Smoke or chew tobacco
- Use medication with dry mouth as a side effect
- Are overweight or obese
- Are experiencing a high degree of stress
- Have a vitamin C deficiency
- Are experiencing age-related hormonal changes
- Live with diabetes, cardiovascular disease, AIDS or HIV, rheumatoid arthritis or Crohn’s disease
- Have a family history of gum disease and periodontitis
- Are undergoing cancer treatments
Treatment for Periodontal Pockets
To address the condition, your dentist may suggest you undergo:
- More frequent professional teeth cleanings
- A targeted at-home dental hygiene plan, including brushing and flossing multiple times per day.
- Scaling and root planing to physically remove the bacteria, plaque and tartar building around your teeth and gums, while also helping the gum tissue reattach to the teeth.
- Surgery to reduce the gum pockets. If your tooth is still secure but bone loss has occurred, this procedure may be recommended.
Preventing Periodontal Pockets
To prevent periodontal disease and periodontal pockets, it’s recommended that patients:
- Regularly see the dentist for cleanings
- Brush and floss at least twice per day with a soft-bristled toothbrush and tartar-control toothpaste
- Avoid eating sweet, sugary foods
To learn more about preventing periodontal pockets and dental treatment options, contact Smile Dental Center today.