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Gingivitis vs. Periodontitis: What’s the Difference?

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Your smile is important—its health is an indication of your oral health and well-being, but conditions like gingivitis and periodontitis can have a significant impact on it if left untreated. 

While gingivitis and periodontitis are terms that are often used interchangeably, they actually represent different stages of gum disease, each with its own characteristics and implications. In a nutshell, gingivitis is the milder form of gum disease, while periodontitis is more severe. 

It’s best to detect and treat gingivitis early to prevent it from progressing to periodontitis. Regular dental checkups every 6 months with your dentist at Palermo Village Dental can help keep your gums healthy.

Gingivitis: The Early Stage

Gingivitis is the initial stage of gum disease and is primarily caused by plaque buildup along the gumline. Plaque is a sticky film of bacteria that forms on the teeth when sugars and starches from food interact with bacteria in the mouth. 

If plaque is not removed through proper oral hygiene practices such as brushing and flossing, it can irritate the gums, leading to inflammation.

Symptoms of Gingivitis

There are many symptoms of gingivitis, including: 

  • Swollen or inflamed gums
  • Tender or bleeding gums, especially during brushing or flossing
  • Bad breath (halitosis)
  • Receding gum line
  • Changes in the colour of the gums (redness)

Treatment for Gingivitis

The good news is that gingivitis is reversible with proper care and attention to oral hygiene. Treatment typically involves:

  • Improved Oral Hygiene: Brushing teeth twice a day with fluoride toothpaste and flossing daily to remove plaque buildup.
  • Professional Dental Cleaning: Regular dental cleanings by a dental professional to remove any hardened plaque (tartar) that cannot be removed through brushing and flossing alone.
  • Lifestyle Changes: Quitting smoking, which can exacerbate gum disease, and maintaining a healthy diet.

Periodontitis: The Advanced Stage

Periodontitis is what happens when gingivitis doesn’t get the care it needs and escalates. With periodontitis, the inflammation doesn’t stop at your gums. It spreads all the way to the bone that supports your teeth. 

When it gets to that stage, it can cause your teeth to loosen or even fall out. Remember, regular checkups with your dentist can help you avoid this. 

Symptoms of Periodontitis

The symptoms of periodontitis can include: 

  • Persistent bad breath
  • Receding gums, leading to tooth sensitivity and exposure of tooth roots
  • Deep pockets between the teeth and gums
  • Loose or shifting teeth
  • Changes in the bite or fit of dentures
  • Loss of teeth

Treatment for Periodontitis

Unlike gingivitis, periodontitis is not fully reversible, but it can be managed with appropriate treatment. Here are some of the treatment options that are commonly used:

  • Scaling & Root Planing: This is a deep cleaning procedure that gets rid of plaque and tartar from below the gumline. It also smooths the root surfaces to help your gums reattach. 
  • Antibiotics: In some cases, antibiotics might be prescribed. They help control bacterial infection and inflammation, which can help get periodontitis under control.
  • Surgical Intervention: For advanced cases of periodontitis where there’s been a lot of bone loss, surgical procedures like flap surgery or bone grafting might be necessary. These procedures can help restore the health of your gums and bones.
  • Bacteria Testing & Treatment: Bacteria testing in dentistry involves taking a saliva sample, which is then sent to a lab for bacterial diagnostic testing. This helps in identifying the most suitable antibiotic rinse, oral antibiotic cream, or antibacterial mouthwash to combat gum disease.

Remember, it’s crucial to keep up with your dental appointments to identify any signs of gum disease early on. That way, you can prevent it from developing into something more serious.

A man in an dentist's office shaking hands with his dentist

Prioritizing Oral Health

Understanding the distinction between gingivitis and periodontitis is crucial for maintaining optimal oral health. While gingivitis represents the early stage of gum disease and is reversible with proper care, periodontitis is a more advanced condition that requires comprehensive treatment to manage.

By practicing good oral hygiene habits, attending regular dental checkups every 6 months, and seeking prompt treatment for any signs of gum disease, you can protect your gums and teeth from the detrimental effects of gingivitis and periodontitis.

Prevention is always better than cure when it comes to oral health. Book your appointment today at Palermo Village Dental to monitor your gum health. By prioritizing oral hygiene and seeking professional dental care when needed, you can enjoy a healthy smile and overall well-being for years to come.

Written by Dr. Christopher Blair

Dr. Christopher Blair completed his Doctor of Dental Surgery Degree at the University of Toronto. He is an avid cyclist and has often combined his passion for cycling with charitable endeavours. Most notably, Dr. Blair is passionate about his efforts to raise funds to support kids living with cancer and who are cancer survivors. Through his participation in Tour for Kids, Dr. Blair has raised thousands of dollars to support Camp Trillium, Camp Quality, and Camp Oochegeas, 3 camps in the Toronto area that support kids living with cancer.

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