Growing up, we all were told to brush our teeth, floss, and avoid too much sugar. You may be aware that oral health is directly related to your overall health, but if nothing has gone wrong in the past, you may be tempted to let your dental hygiene slide.
That is, until issues start to arise with your teeth and gums, and you start to panic. You may have heard big words like “gingivitis” and “periodontal disease,” and if you’re starting to experience problems with your teeth, you may be wondering about the outlook.
While gingivitis and periodontitis are closely related, they are different diseases. We’ll break down the differences between gingivitis vs. periodontitis and give you tips for treatment.
Guide to Gingivitis
Gingivitis is actually a fairly common disease that many people experience at some point. Let’s take a closer look at:
- What defines this disease
- Treatment plans
What Is Gingivitis?
In short, gingivitis is inflammation of the gums. It’s caused by a buildup of plaque on the teeth. (Plaque is a film of bacteria that forms on the surfaces of teeth and gums.)
If the plaque isn’t professionally removed in a dental cleaning, it can harden and turn into tartar, which irritates the gums and often causes bleeding. The good news is that gingivitis is treatable and preventable. However, if left untreated, it can turn into periodontal disease, which we’ll cover later.
Since gingivitis is common, it can be easy to spot by a dental professional. However, if you haven’t scheduled a dental cleaning in a few years, be sure to look out for these symptoms so that the situation doesn’t worsen:
- Red and swollen gums
- Bleeding gums when flossing and brushing teeth
- Randomly bleeding gums
Pain and other symptoms are rare with gingivitis.
How to Treat Gingivitis
Treating gingivitis consists of minimizing gum inflammation. The best treatment plans include:
- Professional dental cleaning: A dentist will remove the tartar and plaque from your teeth and gums.
- At-home oral hygiene: Regularly brush and floss your teeth (twice a day) with the proper techniques
- Antiseptic mouthwash: Rinse your mouth with prescription chlorhexidine mouthwash
Guide to Periodontitis
Periodontitis (or periodontal disease) is commonly known as gum disease. While gingivitis is also technically a form of mild gum disease, periodontitis is a more severe condition.
What Is Periodontitis?
Periodontal disease is what happens when gingivitis goes untreated and worsens. Severe gum disease occurs when the periodontium (the gum tissue and bone that keeps your teeth in place) gets inflamed.
If the condition continues to get worse, it can cause your teeth to loosen and even eventually fall out. As the gums pull away from your teeth, they form spaces called gum pockets, which can quickly get infected.
Symptoms of Periodontitis
The symptoms of periodontal disease are more significant than gingivitis, so it’s essential to work with a dentist as soon as you notice these issues:
- Red, swollen gums
- Bleeding and sore gums
- Sensitive teeth
- Bad breath or taste
- Loose teeth
- Painful chewing
- Gums pulling away from the teeth
- Teeth changing positions
Since periodontal disease is more advanced than gingivitis, it requires more treatment. Treatment still aims to reduce inflammation and includes:
- Regular oral hygiene: Brush and floss your teeth properly at least twice a day
- Professional cleanings: A dentist will perform a deep cleaning to remove plaque and tartar
- Antibiotics: In severe cases of periodontal disease, you may get prescribed oral antibiotics to treat an infection
- Surgery: Also in severe cases, your dentist opens the inflamed gums, cleans the root of the teeth, then stitches the gum tissue back together. This helps the gums reattach to the teeth
Risk Factors for Both Diseases
While failing to properly brush and floss your teeth is the most likely cause of gingivitis and periodontitis, other risk factors can increase your risk for these diseases, including:
- Smoking or chewing tobacco
- Vaping/using e-cigarettes
- Substance use
- Misaligned teeth that are hard to clean
- A diet lacking proper nutrients
- Hormonal changes
- Certain medications like steroids or cancer therapies
- Age over 65
It’s important to note that if you fall under any of these risk factors, oral hygiene is of the utmost importance. If you combine one or more of the risk factors on this list with a lack of proper dental care, you can quickly fall victim to gum disease.
Be sure to brush your teeth once in the morning and once at night, and floss your teeth at least once a day. (If you only floss once a day, doing so before going to bed is the best time.) Also, schedule regular professional dental cleanings every six months.
How Does Gingivitis Progress to Periodontitis?
Periodontal disease can only exist if gingivitis does first. If you can quickly catch and treat gingivitis, you significantly lower your chances of developing periodontitis.
The progression from gingivitis to periodontal disease works like this:
- Plaque accumulates and spreads to the gum line.
- Bacteria in the plaque release toxins that irritate the gums.
- This triggers a chronic inflammatory response which damages the gum tissue and bones keeping the teeth in place.
- As the gums break down and pull away from the teeth, they create gum pockets that can get infected and cause more tissue damage.
- Tissue damage can worsen the gum pockets, and if they become too big, teeth begin to loosen.
Developing periodontal disease may sound gruesome. We don’t mean to scare you, but it’s vital to know the consequences of periodontal disease so that you can take the steps to prevent it.
How Gum Disease Affects Overall Health
Gum disease affects 47.2% of adults over 30 in the U.S. Since it’s so prevalent, you may be tempted to think it’s not that bad. But you don’t want to let gum disease get worse because it can impact your overall health, too, not just that of your teeth.
Many research studies have linked gum disease to roughly 120 other health conditions, including:
- Heart and kidney disease
- Alzheimer’s disease
Gum disease and diabetes have the strongest connection. The relationship goes both ways— people with diabetes may be more susceptible to bacterial infection, and periodontitis can also affect blood glucose levels.
One possible explanation for the way gum disease can lead to heart disease is that bacteria in infected gum tissue could enter the bloodstream. There, it could travel to other parts of your circulatory system, leading to arterial plaque and inflammation.
How to Keep Your Gums Healthy at Home
As we’ve mentioned, gum disease is almost entirely preventable! You need to keep up with your gum health in order to keep bacteria and inflammation away. The best ways you can help prevent gum disease at home include:
- Flossing: Floss at least once a day to remove plaque and food that your toothbrush can’t reach. Be sure to do it right so that your effort doesn’t go to waste! Learn proper flossing techniques in our guide here.
- Brush Your Teeth: Brush your teeth after every meal or at least twice a day. This helps remove food and plaque in between your gums and teeth. Opt for either a manual or electric brush with soft bristles. Electric toothbrushes are often found to do the best job of reducing plaque. Be sure to swap your toothbrush at least every three months.
- Use Floride Toothpaste: Toothpaste that contains fluoride is recommended by the American Dental Association (ADA), as it is best for healthy gums. But the flavor, brand, and color are completely up to you.
- Rinse With Mouthwash: You can find therapeutic mouthwashes over the counter. These rinses help prevent gingivitis by reducing the speed at which tartar develops. It’s not a substitute for brushing and flossing, but it makes a fantastic addition to oral health routines. Look for the ADA seal on the label to ensure you’ve selected a safe product. And be careful never to swallow mouthwash— just rinse, gargle, and spit it out.
- Quit Smoking: We know how difficult it can be to quit smoking. However, there are a slew of benefits that come with quitting, including less risk for gum disease. Since smoking weakens your immune system, it makes it harder for your body to fight off gum infections.
In addition to these at-home steps, be sure to schedule regular professional cleanings. You should have your teeth and gums cleaned by a dentist every 6 months to keep plaque build-up at bay.
We’ll Help You Stay Happy and Healthy
If it’s been a while since you last saw the dentist, or even if you’re just looking for a new office, the friendly professionals at Wayzata Dental can’t wait to serve you. Our team is well-trained and thorough, and we do everything to set our patients up for long-term success.
We accept many insurance plans and know how to treat gum disease when we see it. Don’t wait any longer to take your health into your own hands— set up an appointment with Wayzata Dental today!