Soft-Tissue Management: A Non-Surgical Approach To Periodontal Disease

Up until the 1980s, many dentists who discovered periodontal disease in one of their patients held back on treating them and instead referred them to a periodontist, to make sure the soft tissues and surrounding areas of the mouth would be kept safe and healthy. Periodontal surgery often improved the health of the mouth, but had unwanted side effects such as root exposure and increased tooth sensitivity. Since the mid 1980s, however, soft tissue management has become a favorite among dentists and periodontal professionals, because it avoids surgery and treats just a portion of the oral cavity at a time. Read on to learn more about this less-invasive option for patients with gum disease.

What It Involves

During a routine cleaning, a dentist checks for gum health. If no bleeding is recorded, a simple cleaning can be done. If bacteria has caused the gums to pull away from the teeth, a deep cleaning (soft tissue management) and a visit to the periodontist may be in order. In general, a soft tissue management treatment includes both scaling the teeth (removing dental tartar from tooth surfaces) and root planing--smoothing out the surfaces of the tooth root and removing any portions that are damaged or infected. In many cases, a special laser-like instrument is used to shorten the time it takes and reduce any discomfort or pain to virtually nothing.

The number of visits required for a soft tissue management program varies, but usually runs between two and four. The key, of course, is to schedule regular dental checkups to keep gum disease from progressing to a point where periodontal surgery becomes necessary. 

The Outcome

Once a soft tissue management program is completed, the patient's gum disease should be under control. Any inflammation should be gone, and any plaque buildup or pockets along the gum lines should be reduced to levels that are considered healthy. In addition, gums should not bleed and patients should notice significantly fresher breath and a better tasting experience. The purpose is to stop the progression of gum disease and maintain any good, healthy parts of the oral cavity. 

Of course, once a patient leaves the periodontist, a daily, at-home oral care routine that includes regular brushing and flossing should be implemented. With the conclusion of a soft tissue management program, a patient's oral tissues should be re-evaluated to see whether he or she will need additional treatment, which usually involves surgery.