Infected Gum Pocket: Causes & Treatment

Gum pockets are spaces between the tooth and gum that form when the gums pull away from teeth due to periodontal disease. These gum pockets increase in depth and become infected if left untreated. In the early stage, the infected gum pocket can be treated with good oral hygiene and professional teeth cleaning. Over time, the infection can damage the bone and tissues that support teeth and may eventually lead to tooth loss. In this blog post, we will discuss how a gum pocket forms, how it becomes infected, and how to prevent it from developing.

How Does an Infected Gum Pocket Form?

When you don’t brush your teeth regularly, plaque and bacteria will build up on your teeth and gums. Dental plaque is a sticky film of bacteria that forms on teeth surfaces. It is composed of bacteria, food debris, and saliva. If bacterial plaque is not regularly removed by brushing or flossing, it will harden into tartar. Tartar is a yellowish-brown mineral deposit that can only be removed by a dental professional.

The bacteria in plaque and tartar produce acids that irritate the gums, causing periodontal disease (gum disease), a bacterial infection of the gums. Stages of gum disease can be categorized into:

  • Gingivitis: Gingivitis infection is an early stage of periodontal disease that causes the gums to become red, swollen, and bleed easily.
  • Periodontitis: It is a more advanced stage of periodontal disease that destroys the tooth-supporting tissues and jaw bone damage, leading to periodontal pockets, loose teeth, and tooth loss.

Gingivitis causes the gums to become red, inflamed, and swollen. If left untreated, gingivitis progresses into periodontitis, and the gums separate from the teeth as a response to the inflammation, forming a gum pocket, also known as a periodontal pocket.

As periodontal disease progresses, the periodontal pocket deepens, and more plaque and bacteria accumulate below the gum line, which makes the gum pocket infected. Over time, the infection will cause permanent damage to the bone tissue and soft tissues that support teeth, leading to tooth loss.

Infected gum pocket starts with plaque
Plaque bacteria produce toxins that irritate the gums, leading to gingivitis, periodontitis, and gum pockets.

Risk Factors for Infected Gum Pocket

Some factors can increase the risk of periodontal disease and infected gum pockets, including:

  • Poor oral hygiene habits.
  • Smoking or chewing tobacco. Learn more about how you get gum disease from tobacco.
  • Crooked teeth, which are harder to clean.
  • Hormonal changes during pregnancy, puberty, and menopause.
  • Vitamin C deficiency
  • Certain medications can cause dry mouth.
  • Medical conditions such as diabetes mellitus, leukemia, HIV/AIDS, and cancer treatment. These health conditions affect the immune system, making it harder for your body to fight infections.

The Depth & Severity of Infected Gum Pockets

In a healthy mouth, the gums fit snugly against the teeth, and there are no spaces between them. The gum pocket process begins with periodontitis, an advanced form of gum disease, and becomes deep and infected if left untreated.

The greater the gum infection, the greater the depth of the pocket. Shallow pockets are barely noticeable, while deep pockets cause discomfort and pain.

The severity of a gum pocket is determined by periodontal examination, which involves the measuring of the infected pocket depth in millimeters (mm). The dental professional uses a periodontal probe to measure the gum pocket depth.

  • Healthy pocket: The healthy sulcus is 3mm or less in-depth
  • Mild pocket: The periodontal pocket size is 3-4 millimeters in depth
  • Moderate pocket: The periodontal pocket size is 5-7 millimeters in depth
  • Severe pocket: The periodontal pocket size is 7-12 millimeters in depth

Dentists use gum pocket measurements to determine the severity of periodontal disease and bacterial infection. The greater the gum pocket depth, the greater the level of infection, necessitating more intensive periodontal treatments.

Severity and depth of gum pocekts
The dentist uses a periodontal probe to measure the depth and severity of gum pockets.

When to See a Dentist?

The early stage of periodontal disease doesn’t usually cause pain, so many people ignore it until it becomes more serious. It’s important to see a dentist if you notice any of the following warning signs and symptoms of gum disease:

  • Red, swollen gums are a common sign of gum disease.
  • Gum bleeding when brushing and flossing.
  • Persistent bad breath that doesn’t go away.
  • Gum recession, which makes the tooth root surface more visible.
  • Sensitive teeth
  • Painful chewing.
  • Development of gum pockets between teeth.
  • A pocket of pus in the gums
  • Dental abscesses, especially periodontal abscesses
  • Bad taste
  • Loose teeth or teeth that are shifting position
  • Risk of tooth loss

How Infected Gum Pocket is Treated?

The gum disease treatment depends on the depth of the pocket and how far the infection has progressed. Small to moderate gum pockets are usually treated with nonsurgical treatment options such as scaling & root planing, while severely infected pockets may need surgery.

Periodontitis, a severe form of gum disease, has been linked to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, including heart disease. So, maintaining good oral hygiene and seeking professional treatment is crucial for not only preserving oral health but also reducing the risk of serious systemic conditions.

Non-Surgical Treatment

  • Improving oral hygiene: Small periodontal pockets can be reduced and treated by improving oral hygiene habits and professional cleanings (regular cleanings) to remove plaque buildup.
  • Scaling and root planing (deep cleaning): For deeper pockets, the gum specialist may recommend a scaling and root planing procedure. They will use special tools to remove the plaque and tartar (calculus) below the gum line and from the tooth root surface. The dentist will also smooth the tooth’s root surface to help make the area less likely to harbor bacteria in the future. Scaling and root planing are performed using periodontal instruments, a laser, or an ultrasonic device.
  • Oral antibiotics: Your dentist may prescribe oral antibiotics to help control the infection.

Learn more about how to reduce gum pockets naturally.

Scaling and root planing to treat infected gum pockets
The dentist uses instruments, a laser, or an ultrasonic device to remove tartar from teeth surfaces and below the gum line.

Surgical Treatment for Infected Gum Pocket

If the gum pocket is too deep or severely infected, your dentist may recommend surgical treatment. Surgical procedures are usually associated with scaling and root planing, and antibiotic treatment to help control the bacterial infection.

  • Flap surgery (pocket reduction surgery): Your dentist may raise a flap for effective scaling and root planing. The gum tissue will then be sutured back in place. This pocket reduction surgery is designed to reduce the depth of the pocket.
  • Bone graft: If too much bone has been lost, a bone graft may be needed for reversing periodontal disease bone loss. The bone graft comes from another part of your body, a donor, or synthetic material.
  • Soft tissue graft: Gum grafting is used to replace the damaged gums with healthy gum tissue from another part of your mouth.
  • Tooth Extraction: if there is severe bone loss and tooth mobility, your dentist may recommend tooth extraction and replacing it with a dental implant or bridge.

Home Care for Prevention

A Good oral hygiene routine is essential to prevent infected gum pockets and maintain a healthy mouth. Good oral hygiene practices include:

  • Proper brushing with a soft-bristled toothbrush at least twice a day for two minutes and use a tartar-control toothpaste.
  • Floss daily to help remove food particles and plaque from between teeth, which are hard to reach with a toothbrush.
  • Use antibacterial mouthwashes to help control the growth of bacteria.
  • Eat a healthy diet such as vegetables and fruits and limit sugary foods.
  • Quit smoking or at least smoke in moderation. Read more about how gums heal after quitting smoking.
  • Regular dental visits every six months for checkups and professional cleanings.

Infected Gum Pocket – Conclusion

A gum pocket is a space between the tooth and gum that forms as a result of periodontal disease, an infection of the gums. As the periodontal disease progresses, the gum pockets become deeper and infected, causing pain. The treatment of the gum pocket depends on its depth, which is determined by a dental examination.

For small to moderate infected pockets, the treatment is non-surgical, which means improving oral hygiene habits and professional dental cleaning. For deeper or severely infected pockets, surgery may be required.

If you notice any signs or symptoms of periodontal disease, visit your dentist as soon as possible to prevent complications and determine the treatment plan. Good oral hygiene habits are essential for the prevention of infected gum pockets and maintaining good oral health.

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