Many people use the terms gum disease (also known as periodontal disease) and gingivitis interchangeably, but are they really the same thing?
The short answer is no. While both are technically gum disease, gingivitis is a bit different than full-blown periodontal disease. What are the differences between gum disease and gingivitis? Let’s review their similarities and differences, as well as why you shouldn’t ignore either of them!
Gingivitis: The First Stage of Gum Disease
Gingivitis literally means gum inflammation. During this earliest stage of gum disease, your gum tissue becomes inflamed by bacteria that aren’t being removed during your oral care process.
While poor oral hygiene is the most common cause of gingivitis, you may be more likely to develop gum inflammation if you smoke or chew tobacco, have a family history of gum disease, or are currently pregnant. Fluctuating hormone levels in the body can make gingivitis more likely, making women who are pregnant or on oral contraception more at risk to develop the condition .
Symptoms of gingivitis may not be noticeable at first, but your gums may appear puffy, red, or they may bleed during brushing. Symptoms will be more severe as gingivitis progresses to periodontal disease.
Gum Disease: Advancing Inflammation and Infection
Without treatment, gingivitis will eventually progress to gum disease. Full-blown gum disease is generally more difficult to treat than gingivitis. For many patients, gingivitis can be reversed with a deep cleaning from your dentist and improved home care habits. However, in cases of gum disease, more intensive or repeated therapies may be necessary.
Once gum disease develops, your gums can begin to pull back from your teeth in what’s known as gum recession. Your teeth may become sensitive as your tooth roots may become exposed, and bacteria can get underneath the gum tissue and cause infection.
This infection can destroy the connective tissue that helps anchor your teeth and can even impact the surrounding bone. Eventually, your teeth may begin to feel loose or feel as though they are shifting . If left to progress, gum disease can eventually lead to tooth loss.
What Can You Do?
Both gingivitis and gum disease can be prevented with the right care, which includes:
- Brushing and flossing every day. Brushing twice daily and flossing once a day go a long way towards keeping gum disease from getting started!
- Visiting your dentist. Your dentist can not only look for signs of gum disease, but thoroughly clean your teeth during your visit to help prevent gingivitis.
- Not using tobacco. Avoiding smoking and chewing tobacco can help keep your smile free of gum inflammation and bacteria that cause periodontal disease.
- Eating a healthy diet. A balanced diet with lots of whole foods and minimal added sugars can help support a healthy smile!
Gum disease and gingivitis are also both treatable, so if you’re experiencing any symptoms, don’t hesitate to seek professional attention from your dentist to help remedy the problem!
Don’t Ignore the Signs of Gum Disease!
Both periodontal disease and gingivitis should be taken seriously and treated as soon as possible to avoid long-term consequences for your smile. Regular cleanings and checkups with your dentist can help you avoid gum disease for a strong and beautiful smile for life!