Gingivitis, periodontitis, and gum disease… oh my! While not quite as life-threatening as lions, tigers, or bears, make no mistake these three dental afflictions can cause serious damage when left untreated. But what are they? And how serious are they really?
Here’s what you need to know about gingivitis, periodontitis, and gum disease.
Gingivitis is very common and considered a mild form of gum disease. It is the inflammation of your gums—the pink, fleshy tissue surrounding your teeth. Gingivitis is the precursor to periodontitis, more commonly known as gum disease.
Symptoms of gingivitis include swollen, puffy, gums that feel tender to the touch and may appear dark red in color. Affected gum tissue bleeds easily when brushing or flossing and may even begin to recede.
If you notice or suspect any of these symptoms schedule a visit with your dentist as soon as possible. The sooner you are able to catch and treat gingivitis, the sooner you can prevent it from turning into the more serious periodontitis.
Fun fact: Your gums are medically known as the gingiva, the name from which gingivitis is derived.
Gingivitis is, more often than not, the result of poor dental hygiene. Plaque is a filmy layer that builds up on the surface of our teeth each day. When not consistently and efficiently removed each day, plaque will harden into tartar—a considerably more difficult substance that can only be removed by dental professionals. This buildup of tartar and plaque, as well as resulting bacteria, leads to irritation and inflammation of the gums. This resulting inflammation is gingivitis.
Periodontal disease, more commonly known as gum disease, affects both the gum and bone that surround and support your teeth.
Technically, there are three types of gum disease: chronic, aggressive, and necrotizing. Fortunately, chronic gum disease is the most common of the three. This form is the slowest in its deterioration of the dental tissues. It still leads to the destruction of vital tissues, which in turn affects your oral health for life and should be taken very seriously.
Aggressive gum disease is both more serious and rapid in its progression. This form of gum disease most commonly starts in one’s childhood or early adulthood and is the result of genetics.
Lastly, we have necrotizing gum disease which, as its name suggests, is the death of gum tissue, ligaments, and bone. The death of gum tissue is due to a lack of sufficient blood supply, which in turn leads to serious infection. This form usually affects individuals with suppressed immune systems or those who are experiencing malnutrition.
In addition to the tender, swollen, puffy, and red-colored gums that are a sign of gingivitis, symptoms of periodontal disease include pus between teeth, increased spacing between teeth, loose teeth, and pain when chewing or talking.
If you feel that you are experiencing any of these symptoms, contact the dentist right away to schedule a visit to receive a diagnosis and treatment. The sooner you receive treatment to stop gum disease in its tracks, the sooner you can prevent it from causing severe (and costly to repair) damage.
Fun fact: Now that you know gingivitis is derived from gingiva, can you guess where periodontitis comes from? It comes from the root words used to describe the supportive tissue around your teeth—periodous. Perio comes from the Greek peri which means “around” while odous means tooth.
Poor oral hygiene is a leading cause of gum disease. Inefficient dental habits allow plaque to build up on the surface of our teeth and harden into tartar. As both substances are allowed to sit along and below the gumline, they irritate the gums leading to inflammation and gum disease.
Ongoing inflammation causes gum tissue to recede away from the tooth, eventually forming an open pocket between the tooth and gums. Plaque, tartar, and bacteria move into this open pocket to cause further irritation, inflammation, and recession resulting in a deeply-rooted infection. This infection spreads to the supporting gum and bone tissues. As your body works to fight off the infection, it inadvertently breaks down these supportive tissues as well. This leads to tissue, bone, and even tooth loss.
Other risk factors for gum disease include smoking, old age, dry mouth, poor nutrition, a compromised immune system, and viral or fungal infections.
You now know you definitely do not want gingivitis or periodontitis. But what can you do to prevent it? Well, the good news is prevention methods aren’t anything you haven’t heard before. The bad news? If you aren’t diligent about your daily dental habits, it’s time to get started building those habits today.
To prevent gum disease brush your teeth twice daily for at least two minutes and floss once a day. Schedule regular visits with your dentist to closely monitor and maintain your oral health. You should be visiting the dentist at least twice a year or as recommended by your treatment plan. During your visit, the dental team will ensure your oral health is in tip-top shape while removing any tartar that may have built up between visits.
Other health habits to work on for your oral health are eating a well-balanced diet that limits sweets and drinking plenty of water. Also avoid high-risk behaviors such as smoking and chewing tobacco to keep your odds of getting gum disease low.
Getting treatment as soon as you notice symptoms for either condition is critical. Early treatment is not only easier on the wallet, but it also conserves the integrity of your oral health as much as is possible.
Gingivitis can be reversed before it turns into periodontal disease. But it requires a visit to the dentist for a thorough cleaning followed up with diligent at-home care.
For those affected by gum disease, your treatment plan will include regular periodontal cleanings to remove plaque, tartar, and bacteria from the tooth’s surface through scaling and root planing procedures. Scaling removes tartar from the tooth’s surface and from beneath gums, while root planing creates conditions for your gum tissue to successfully reattach to the tooth.
Depending on the severity of the damage, dental restoration may be required. This might involve restoring misaligned natural teeth that are difficult to properly clean or poorly-fitting restorations that have irritated surrounding gum tissue. Those severely impacted by gum disease may require bone grafting, dental implants, dental bridge placement or partial dentures.