Periodontal disease is diagnosed by your dentist or dental hygienist during a periodontal examination. Screening for periodontal problems in random areas of your mouth is part of your regular dental check-up.
A periodontal probe (small dental instrument) is gently used to measure the sulcus (pocket or space) between the tooth and the gums. A healthy sulcus does not bleed. The periodontal probe helps indicate the depth of gum disease pockets. As periodontal disease progresses, the pockets usually get deeper.
Your dentist or hygienist will use pocket depths, amount of bleeding, inflammation, tooth mobility, etc., 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 up, the gums begin to recede from the teeth. Deeper pockets form between the gums and teeth and become filled with bacteria and pus. The gums become very irritated, inflamed, and bleed easily. Slight to moderate bone loss may be present.
The teeth lose more support as the gums, bone, and periodontal ligament 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.