Gum disease treatment may be nonsurgical or surgical, depending on the stage of disease and your oral and overall health. Nonsurgical treatments include scaling and root planing and antibiotics. Surgical options include pocket reduction surgery and guided tissue regeneration. Most often, a periodontist (gum specialist) performs these procedures.
Gum disease treatment encompasses a wide range of dental procedures. Healthcare providers use these procedures to reduce infection in your mouth and rebuild tissues damaged by periodontal (gum) disease. Periodontists (gum specialists) usually perform these procedures. But general dentists sometimes treat milder forms of gum disease.
Gum disease occurs when plaque and tartar build up on your teeth surfaces. Your gums react to the bacteria in these irritants and become red, swollen and tender. Your gums may also bleed when you brush or floss.
The sooner you treat gum disease, the better chance you have for long-lasting oral health. At its earliest stage (gingivitis), gum disease is reversible. But the later stages (periodontitis) damage your gums and underlying bone. This results in gaps — or periodontal pockets — around your teeth, leading to further infection, loose teeth and even tooth loss.
Gum disease treatments are among the most commonly performed dental procedures. In the U.S., almost half of all adults aged 30 or over have some form of gum disease. About 9% of adults in the U.S. need advanced gum disease treatment.
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Whether you need surgical or nonsurgical gum disease treatment depends on several factors, including:
There are a number of nonsurgical and surgical gum disease treatment options available. In addition, many periodontists offer sedation dentistry to keep you comfortable during your treatment. To learn more, talk to a healthcare provider.
People with early-stage gum disease — such as gingivitis or mild periodontitis — can benefit from nonsurgical therapies. Nonsurgical treatments for gum disease include:
Dental prophylaxis is a routine dental cleaning — like the one that many people have with their hygienist twice a year. During this procedure, a provider removes plaque and tartar from your teeth surfaces.
People who have gingivitis (the first stage of gum disease) can often reverse it with professional dental cleanings and improved oral hygiene at home. Depending on your specific situation, you might need more frequent cleanings with your dentist or hygienist to keep harmful bacteria at bay.
Scaling and root planing — a deep dental cleaning — reaches deep beneath your gum line to remove plaque and tartar on your root surfaces. In addition to thoroughly cleaning your teeth, your periodontist or dental hygienist will smooth away any rough spots on your teeth roots. This helps prevent bacteria and plaque from reattaching. Your periodontist will give you local anesthesia to numb your gums and keep you comfortable during this procedure.
Your periodontist may use antibiotics — either as a stand-alone treatment or in combination with other procedures. Common antibiotics used in the treatment of gum disease include products like minocycline HCl (Arestin®) or chlorhexidine (PerioChip®). Your periodontist can place these medications in the space between your gums and teeth (the periodontal pocket).
During this procedure, your periodontist uses a tiny laser to remove diseased tissue and kill bacteria under your gums. In some cases, providers recommend laser therapy as an alternative to traditional gum surgery. Unlike traditional gum surgery, laser therapy doesn’t require incisions or sutures.
People with moderate to advanced periodontal disease usually require surgical intervention. Surgical treatments for gum disease include:
During this procedure, your periodontist will create incisions along your gum line, then temporarily move your gums away from your teeth. This allows them to see the roots underneath. Next, they’ll remove the tartar buildup and clean your root surfaces. In some instances, they may smooth and reshape areas of damaged bone, making it harder for bacteria to hide and grow. Finally, they’ll reposition your gums and suture them into place.
A dental bone graft uses your own bone, donated bone or synthetic bone to rebuild areas that have been damaged by gum disease. The graft serves as a type of scaffolding that holds space until your body can regenerate new bone. Periodontists often perform bone grafting in combination with pocket reduction surgery.
A gum graft uses your own tissue, donated tissue or synthetic tissue to treat gum recession (when your gums pull away from your teeth). Gum recession is a common symptom of periodontal disease.
During gum grafting surgery, your periodontist places the tissue graft in areas where your gums have receded and sutures (stitches) it into place. If they use your own tissue, they’ll take the graft from the roof of your mouth.
Periodontal disease can cause gaps that form between your tooth root and bone. During guided tissue regeneration, your periodontist places a membrane in the damaged area to keep your gum tissue from growing where bone should be. This gives your body time to regenerate bone around your tooth. In many cases, periodontists place a bone graft during the same procedure to help this process.
The pros of treating gum disease outweigh the cons. Left untreated, gum disease continues its destructive path, leading to a cycle of infection, bone loss and eventual tooth loss. With prompt treatment, you can:
Periodontal disease treatment has impressive success rates that can reach 95% in some instances. These rates vary based on several factors, including the type of procedure performed and how a person cares for their teeth and gums following treatment.
Gum disease treatment can change the long-term outlook for teeth damaged by periodontitis. In many cases, this type of therapy can save teeth that were hopeless without treatment.
It’s important to understand that you can’t cure gum disease, you can only manage it. Treatments focus on prevention and management, rather than a cure.
Possible complications following gum disease treatment include:
If you develop any of these complications, call your periodontist. They can prescribe medications or recommend therapies to help ease these side effects.
It depends on the type of treatment you receive. If you have scaling and root planing, you won’t need any downtime. If you undergo procedures for advanced periodontal disease — such as flap surgery, bone grafts or gum grafts — you’ll need anywhere from one to four weeks to recover.
Immediately following your gum disease treatment, your periodontist will give you a list of detailed care instructions. These guidelines vary depending on what type of procedure you had. Be sure to ask your periodontist about specific post-treatment care. In general, you should:
Gum disease treatment helps reduce harmful bacteria in your mouth. But if you don’t practice good oral hygiene at home, the bacteria can regrow, leaving you in the same place you started. To prevent this from happening, you should follow your periodontist’s specific instructions. Here are some general guidelines:
Following periodontal disease treatment, you should call your periodontist right away if you develop:
A periodontist (gum specialist) is usually the type of provider to treat periodontal disease. General or family dentists may choose to treat some mild cases themselves.
You can get a referral to a periodontist from your dentist or primary care physician (PCP).
Mouthwash is an effective tool for preventing and treating periodontal disease. Keep in mind, though: Mouthwash isn’t a substitute for brushing, flossing or routine dental visits.
Choose an alcohol-free antibacterial formula — one that contains either chlorhexidine or hydrogen peroxide. These ingredients help reduce plaque and tartar. If you’re unsure about which brand or formula to purchase, ask your dentist or periodontist.
While hydrogen peroxide reduces plaque and tartar on your teeth, you should never use it undiluted, as it can burn your gum tissue. But if you’d like, you can combine one part hydrogen peroxide with three parts water. Swish this mixture for 60 seconds, then spit. Or you can purchase a mouthwash that already contains hydrogen peroxide.
Gum disease isn’t curable. It’s only manageable. But you can’t successfully manage gum disease without the help of a dentist or periodontist. This is because bacteria seep way down under the surface of your gums, where brushing and flossing can’t reach.
At best, diligent oral hygiene might slow the destruction process. But professional treatment is the key to proper management and long-term oral health.
Periodontists use laser light therapy to kill disease-causing bacteria and sterilize the treatment area. As with most procedures, there are pros and cons.
Here are the most notable benefits of laser therapy:
There’s one major disadvantage when it comes to periodontal laser therapy: It’s not always effective when treating advanced periodontal disease. If you have severe periodontitis, your periodontist may recommend traditional flap surgery.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Gum disease treatment encompasses several surgical and nonsurgical procedures used to combat gingivitis and periodontitis. Professional treatment is the only way to effectively treat and manage these conditions. Remember, there’s no cure for gum disease. But you can manage it with proper treatment and improved oral hygiene at home.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 01/31/2023.
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