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Difference between Gingivitis and Periodontitis

Diseases affecting the gums have several types, two of which are gingivitis and periodontitis. These two gum diseases are actually related to each other, with their difference being very basic: gingivitis is an early stage of periodontitis. The way to avoiding periodontitis thus is through timely control of gingivitis.

Gingivitis is characterized by swelling of the gums with redness and bleeding. Periodontitis, on the other hand, consists of inflammation of the tissues which support and stabilize the roots of the teeth. Dental plaque, which constantly forms on the teeth, is the cause of both these gum diseases. If plaque is not removed regularly, it will build up and eventually calcify. This hardened plaque form is called tartar or calculus.

Several factors can contribute to the development of gingivitis. A lack of dental cleanliness is obviously a major factor in the accumulation of food residue and calculus on the tooth surface. Misplaced or crooked teeth and poorly fitting dental restorations, which make oral hygiene difficult, are two other possible contributing factors. A few cases of gingivitis were known to have occurred in individuals who have the habit of breathing through the mouth.

When neglected, periodontitis can result to the loss of teeth. It all begins with untreated plaque and tartar, which cause the gums to draw away from the teeth. This drawing away of the gums from the teeth leads to the formation of pockets that may, in turn, fill up with more plaque. In time, the fibrous tissue that surrounds the root of each tooth may become so diseased that the teeth will loosen and even fall out. Periodontitis may stabilize and then become worse.

Certain conditions other than those already mentioned may cause gingivitis and periodontitis. These include those that are the result of vitamin deficiencies (examples are pellagra and scurvy), certain drugs, diabetes, chronic debilitating diseases, and some instances of pregnancy. Other cases of these gum diseases may be due to poisoning by chemical substances, such as bismuth and lead.

Daily thorough brushing and flossing of the teeth are the keys to removing plaque. Dentists advise those who have a tendency to develop plaque quickly to brush and floss after each meal. Rinsing the mouth with warm salt solution (i.e., a teaspoonful of table salt to a glass of water) several times a day, especially immediately after meals, can bring relief, albeit temporary, to those with gingivitis. Correcting the underlying cause of the disease, with the help of a dentist or physician, is of course the more important step to take.

For cases of periodontitis that have progressed to a serious degree, the dentist may suggest a procedure called root planing. This procedure makes it possible for gum tissues to reattach themselves to the teeth. For very advanced cases of this gum disease, it may be necessary for the dentist to surgically remove certain diseased tissues and to splint teeth that have lost their bony support. But even after such surgery, the gums can become reinfected, therefore thorough cleaning and flossing remain indispensable.


1. “Periodontal Disease” on Periodontal Concepts, by Munib Derhalli – www.periodontalconcepts.net/perio.asp

2. “Types of Gum Disease” on PERIO.ORG – www.perio.org/consumer/2a.html

3. “Gingivitis and Periodontal Disease (Gum Disease) – Oral Health Guide, on WebMD – www.webmd.com/oral-health/guide/gingivitis-periodontal-disease