Periodontal disease is frequently diagnosed by your dentist or dental hygienist during a periodontal examination. This type of exam should always be part of your regular dental check-up.
A periodontal probe (small dental instrument) is used to measure the sulcus (pocket or space) between the teeth and the gums. The depth of a healthy sulcus measures three millimeters or less and does not bleed. The periodontal probe helps indicate if pockets are deeper than three millimeters. As periodontal disease progresses, the pockets get deeper.
Your dentist or hygienist will use pocket depths, presence of bleeding, amount of bone loss, inflammation, tooth mobility, etc., to make a diagnosis that will fall into a category below:
Gingivitis is the first stage of periodontal disease. Plaque (bacteria) and its toxic by-products irritate the gums, making them tender, inflamed and likely to bleed.
Plaque hardens into calculus (tartar). As calculus and plaque accumulate on the teeth, the gums become inflamed and bleed easily. They may receed from the teeth. Deeper pockets (gaps) form between the gums and teeth and become filled with bacteria and pus. Slight to moderate bone loss may be present.
The teeth lose more support as the gums, bone, and periodontal ligament undergo further destruction. Unless treated, the affected teeth may be lost. Generalized moderate to severe bone loss may be present.