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By Dr. Rob Gausmann, DDS  – Printed September 9, 2013

Q. What is the difference between Gingivitis and Periodontitis? How can I keep from getting these?

A.  Understanding gingivitis and periodontitis is important because they directly relate to the health of our teeth and overall general health. Although it is easier to see potential problems with the “white part” of a tooth, the underlying bone and gum tissue are just as important. Without a strong foundation, teeth (even cavity-free teeth) become wiggly and may have to be removed. Wiggly teeth create spaces where bacteria can grow and cause infection, discomfort and pain. This unhealthy situation first starts with gingivitis.

By definition, gingivitis is an inflammation of the gum tissues. This is commonly seen when leftover food is allowed to collect around the tooth. Bacteria naturally start the body’s digestive process by consuming food particles. Everyone has essential bacteria in their mouth – although it sounds bad, this bacteria is “healthy”. There are other types of bacteria in the mouth however, which cause damage to the gum and bone tissues. It is important to keep this bacteria in check. As food is chewed, debris will be caught in and around the teeth. As the bacteria start to break down the food, they produce by-products such as acid and other components that are sticky. This collection of bacteria and by-products is called plaque. With daily brushing and flossing, this plaque is easily removed.  Whenever, the plaque is allowed to sit on the teeth – often where the tooth meets the gum tissue – it causes irritation and inflammation. This is gingivitis.

Visible signs of gingivitis are:  Red and puffy gum tissues and the accumulation of soft white material near or along the teeth at the gum tissue

With proper homecare and semi-annual visits to the dentist, gingivitis can be controlled with minimal negative results.

Untreated gingivitis can lead to other, more serious oral problems. With time, the sticky plaque becomes hard and destructive bacteria settles into the area around the tooth and gum tissue. Every tooth has a space between it and the gum tissue.  This space is very similar to a pants pocket. Typically, a healthy pocket around teeth is very shallow and easy to keep clean – especially with flossing. However, as the tissue swells from gingivitis, it becomes difficult to keep clean.  Food particles become trapped in the pockets and the destructive bacteria are attracted to the pockets. With time, the pocket can completely fill with bad bacteria. This destructive bacteria causes even more inflammation which now starts damaging the bone surrounding the tooth. This is periodontitis/periodontal disease. 

Unfortunately the bone loss sustained from periodontitis is permanent. At this point home care will not be effective in completely removing the pocket buildup. A visit to the dental office is required to remove the debris and bacteria from the pocket. Contributing factors that make patients more susceptible to gingivitis and periodontitis are smoking and general health conditions such as diabetes and heart health.

Total teeth health involves much more than the easy to see “white parts”. The integrity of the underlying bone is essential to proper oral health. This is linked closely to gingivitis and ultimately periodontitis. The goal is to stay on top of any inflammation with proper homecare. If however, this inflammation is already occurring, it is important to visit the dentist for evaluation and treatment in order to prevent further damage and restore your smile.

Dr. Rob Gausmann, DDS  – Gausmann Family Dental

© Gausmann Family Dental 2016