Periodontal disease can be diagnosed by your dentist or dental hygienist during a periodontal examination. This type of exam should always be part of your regular dental checkup.
A periodontal probe (small dental instrument) will be used to gently measure the sulcus (pocket or space) between the tooth and gums. The depth of a healthy sulcus measures three millimeters or less and does not bleed. A periodontal probe helps indicate if pockets are deeper than three millimeters. As periodontal disease progresses, the pockets usually become deeper.
Your dentist or hygienist will use factors, such as pocket depths, amount of bleeding, inflammation, and tooth mobility, to make a diagnosis that will fall into a category below:
Gingivitis is the first stage of periodontal disease. Plaque and its toxin by-products irritate the gums, making them tender, inflamed, and likely to bleed.
Plaque hardens into calculus (tartar). As calculus and plaque continue to build, gums will begin to recede from the teeth. Deeper pockets will form between the gums and teeth and become filled with bacteria and pus. The gums will become very irritated and inflamed and will bleed easily. Slight to moderate bone loss may be present.
Teeth will lose more support as the gums, bone, and periodontal ligaments continue to be destroyed. Unless treated, the affected teeth will become very loose and may be lost. Generalized moderate to severe bone loss may be present.