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Gingivitis vs. Periodontitis: How Are They Different?

Although gingivitis and periodontitis both affect the oral cavity, they are separate conditions whose differences are not always understood. While gingivitis (meaning, literally, “inflammation of the gum tissue”) is a condition that can be reversed by brushing, flossing, and using an effective mouth rinse every day, Periodontitis (which impacts the structures that support and surround the teeth) is a more serious disease that cannot be cured. A patient who has periodontitis will require more frequent dental cleanings in order to maintain a set of teeth that are healthy and functional. By contrast, a patient who has gingivitis can be proactive in arresting the condition and restoring their mouth to a completely healthy state. This article will address the signs and symptoms of both conditions. It will also stress the integral role that good oral hygiene plays in preventing any type of dental infection.


While certain chronic conditions, such as diabetes, and other temporary circumstances, like pregnancy, can lead to gingivitis, it is most prevalent when plaque is left on the teeth. As plaque matures in the oral cavity, it hardens, and the bacteria that live within its matrix become more tenacious and inflammatory. The type of bacteria that causes an immune response from the body is called “gram negative” bacteria. Once gram negative bacteria collect underneath the gums, the body begins to defend itself. Red or purple gums, shiny gums, and tissue that will bleed during brushing or flossing are common. In fact, gums that bleed or, similarly, gums that are discolored and tender, are the easiest ways to visibly detect gingivitis. Such symptoms usually don’t occur until 1-2 weeks without brushing or flossing at the gum line. In order to arrest and reverse gingivitis, brushing and flossing at the gum line are imperative. To prevent gingivitis from occurring again, cleaning these areas with a tooth brush and dental floss every day is a necessity.



If gingivitis is left untreated, a more serious infection develops in the oral cavity. Unlike gingivitis, periodontitis is irreversible. The condition affects the ligaments and bone that support the teeth and help to keep them in place. Periodontitis often goes undetected for years, and consequently, a dental professional should measure the gingival sulcus depths on each patient. Large depths (called pockets) are associated with periodontal disease. As the periodontal structures break down, teeth become mobile. Larger pockets beneath the gum line collect larger amounts of bacteria. Every three to four months, cleanings (scaling) should be administered by a dental hygienist to prevent a build-up of calculus underneath the gums. Pocket depths should also be measured in order to assess whether or not the condition is improving. While periodontitis, which is a broad term that encompasses many different infections, can be maintained, patients who have been diagnosed must be seen more often, have more frequent dental x-rays, and be given more in-depth cleanings at each appointment.

For more information about gingivitis, periodontitis, or other dental issues, contact your Shelby, OH dentist, Dr. Marissa Miller today.