Gum disease is a term used to generally describe both gingivitis and periodontitis. In fact, while gum disease refers to both conditions, they are not the same thing. It can be confusing for patients to understand, so in this article, we’d like to clarify the differences between gingivitis and periodontitis. The first thing to know is that the term gum disease covers a whole spectrum of symptoms that can be caused by many different factors including age, oral care habits, general health, and lifestyle habits.
The Spectrum of Gum Disease
At one end of the spectrum of gum disease is gingivitis. You have gingivitis when your gums are swollen, red and sometimes bleed when you brush your teeth. Gingivitis is caused by plaque building up under the gumline, around your teeth. The plaque traps bacteria which then irritates your gums. So if you are not careful about brushing and flossing, and don’t get regular dental cleanings, you may develop gingivitis. Chances are that you have experienced at least a mild case of gingivitis at some point in your life anyway, caused by temporary factors including changing hormones during pregnancy, or when you had a cold or allergies that made you breathe through your mouth.
The good news is that, if your teeth and gums are in otherwise good condition, the gingivitis will go away along with your cold, and after pregnancy. Even for gingivitis that is not due to a temporary cause, taking better care of your teeth and gums, regular brushing and flossing, and thorough cleanings by your dentist can eliminate gingivitis. If you are showing signs of it, your dentist will warn you about gingivitis and educate you about how to correct it before sending you on your way.
Empty Your Pockets, Regularly
However, if you choose to ignore your dentist’s advice, or simply don’t go for regular checkups gingivitis can progress into periodontitis which is not as simple to solve on your own, or with your dentist’s help. He or she will likely refer you to a periodontist to help treat the effects of chronic periodontitis. Here’s what happens at this stage of gum disease; the gums begin to recede and pull away from the tooth causing a pocket to form. Pockets collect food particles, plaque, and bacteria which eventually causes an infection under the gum. Patients with periodontitis experience severe swelling, temperature sensitivity, pain, and chronic bad breath. And, if that’s not bad enough, there’s the fact that damage caused to gums by periodontitis is permanent.
Your gums perform the very vital function of helping to keep your teeth in place, and protecting the roots from damage and decay. The damaging effects of periodontitis will eventually put teeth at risk of becoming loose and falling out if it isn’t dealt with. It’s a fact that more people over the age of 35 lose teeth to periodontal disease than to decay from cavities. Perhaps that’s because by the time we reach older adulthood, some of our lifestyle and oral care habits begin catching up to us. Smoking, improper brushing, stress, clenching, and poor nutrition all contribute. In addition, medical conditions including diabetes, menopause and the use of some medications increase the risk of developing periodontitis.
Periodontitis Doesn’t Go Away On Its Own
The irritation and damage caused by periodontitis will go away if the sources of the problem (pockets, and damaged gums) are eliminated. While it won’t happen on its own, there are surgical procedures (gum grafting and pocket reduction) and non-surgical ones (Chao Pinhole Technique) that can repair and expand your gums so that they can continue to do their job effectively. The best periodontist will recommend the type of treatment that is best depending on the nature and severity of your condition.
When periodontitis becomes severe (at the far end of the spectrum) damage to the jawbone and loss of teeth are likely to happen. Bone regeneration procedures and dental implants can replace your teeth but nothing is as good as your natural teeth. So help keep teeth healthy and strong by taking good care of your gums and preventing periodontal disease. If your dentist talks to you about gingivitis, treat it as a wake-up call to do a little better with brushing and flossing and maybe avoid some of the habits that may exacerbate it. If you get a referral to us, know that we are here to help with effective ways to treat gingivitis and periodontitis and prevent tooth loss.
Periodontal Associates are Mississauga Periodontists, specializing in dental implants, gum grafting, crown lengthening, the Chao Pinhole surgical technique, and other periodontal treatments. If your gingivitis is progressing and you need to have it addressed, call us at 1-800-341-7471 or connect via email at [email protected].