Periodontal Terminology: Terms to Learn

From gingivitis to dental bone graft, here are six important gum-related terms to brush up on before your next check-up.

Periodontal disease

Periodontal translates to “around the teeth.” Periodontal disease refers to conditions related to the gums, the soft, fleshy tissue surrounding your teeth. Your gum health is critical not only for aesthetic reasons – swollen, red gums can affect the appearance of your smile – but also because your gums act as a barrier to bad bacteria in the mouth. Poor oral hygiene can cause harmful plaque to build up on tooth surfaces and infect the gums. If left untreated, advanced periodontal disease can lead to tooth loss and may have other serious medical consequences.


Gingivitis is an early, mild stage of gum disease. The most common signs and symptoms of gingivitis include redness, bleeding, and/or tenderness of the gums. The best way to prevent gingivitis is regular tooth brushing and flossing. Visiting your dentist at least once or twice a year for a routine cleaning and check-up will also help ensure any gingivitis is caught early on. Otherwise gingivitis has the potential to turn into periodontal disease, which can be harder to reverse.


You might know calculus by another name: tartar. Whether you call it calculus or tartar, it’s formed when dental plaque hardens on the teeth. The rough surface of calculus encourages even more plaque build-up which will eventually affect the gums and lead to gingivitis if it’s not treated early. Regular tooth cleanings (at least once or twice a year) or deep cleanings performed by a periodontist are recommended to keep plaque build-up to a minimum.

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Periodontal Pocket

As the American Academy of Periodontology puts it, “Your bone and gum tissue should fit snugly around your teeth like a turtleneck around your neck.” As harmful bacteria and plaque form on and around your teeth, a space forms. This periodontal pocket allows the infection to pass below the surface of your gums, reaching the bones that hold your teeth in place. Any visit to a periodontist (and, oftentimes, regular dentist visits) will include measurement of the depth of your periodontal pockets. Healthy pockets are between 1 and 3 millimeters. Anything more than 4mm is a sign of periodontal disease.

Dental Bone Graft

A dental bone graft is used when a patient has experienced deterioration of the jawbone. An atrophied, or degenerating, jawbone will affect the appearance of your face and smile, as well as your bite. If the periodontist or dentist thinks you are a candidate for a dental bone graft, the new bone may be obtained from a tissue bank, created out of synthetic bone material, or taken from the patient’s own body. It will then be used to rebuild the bone structure around your teeth.

Dental Implants

If you have suffered from tooth loss, your periodontist can help you determine if dental implants are a good option for you. Dental implants act as a replacement for your tooth root. Once they’ve been placed, a natural-looking prosthetic tooth can be attached. This procedure allows people to enjoy eating, speaking, and smiling the way they did before losing their teeth.

Scaling and Root Planing

This procedure is often referred to as a deep cleaning and is a common periodontal practice. Scaling occurs when a periodontist removes plaque and tartar from the surface of the teeth and even down below the gum line. Root planing smooths the surface of the teeth roots, so that plaque is less able to stick to those areas and cause bacteria to build. Helpful in any stage of gum disease, scaling and root planing can actually resolve gingivitis.

If you are interested in learning more about these procedures, contact us today to schedule an appointment with one of our skilled periodontal specialists.