Gingivitis, gum disease, periodontal disease, what exactly are they and how are they different?
The terms gingivitis, gum disease and periodontal disease all have one thing in common, they all relate to disease in the gums. Gum disease, in one stage or another, affects an estimated 50% of adult americans today.
When the tissue that surrounds and support your teeth becomes infected or inflamed, you have gum disease. Initially gum disease is painless, many patients don’t know they have it, however gum disease happens to be a major cause of tooth loss in adults. Gingivitis is a milder stage of gum disease than periodontal disease.
If left untreated gingivitis can progress to a more serious form of gum disease called periodontal disease. All forms of gum disease are caused by plaque, the sticky film of bacterial colonies that are constantly forming on teeth.
Here are some warning signs that can signal a problem:
- gums that bleed easily
- red, swollen, tender gums
- gums that have pulled away from the teeth
- persistent bad breath or bad taste
- permanent teeth that are loose or separating
- any change in the way your teeth fit together when you bite
- any change in the fit of partial dentures
Some factors increase the risk of developing gum disease. They are:
- poor oral hygiene
- smoking or chewing tobacco
- crooked teeth that are hard to keep clean
- medications, including steroids, certain types of anti-epilepsy drugs, cancer therapy drugs, some calcium channel blockers and oral contraceptives
If you suspect you have gum disease or have any of the above conditions, see the dentist, because the sooner you treat it the better. If you have gingivitis, the beginning stages of gingivitis, your gums may become red, swollen and bleed easily. At this stage, the disease is still reversible and can usually be eliminated by a professional cleaning at your dental office, followed by daily brushing and flossing.
Advanced gum disease, also called periodontitis, is much more chronic and can be tougher to eliminate. Periodontal disease, left untreated, leads to the loss of gum tissue, connective tissue, and bone that support the teeth and it may become more severe over time. Left untreated, teeth can begin to feel loose and start moving around in your mouth. This is the most common form of periodontitis in adults but can occur at any age. Usually periodontal disease progresses slowly but it can progress quite rapidly. The best way to prevent progression of periodontal disease is to closely work with your dentist, regular cleanings, never skipping brush or flossing, and discontinue use of nicotine and alcohol, both of which contribute to gum disease.
Research between systemic diseases and periodontal diseases is ongoing. While a link is not conclusive, some studies indicate that severe gum disease may be associated with several other health conditions such as diabetes or stroke. Other links have been established to the progression of gum disease, besides tobacco and alcohol one study now conclusively links lack of sleep to worsening gum disease.
It is possible to have gum disease and have no warning signs. To prevent gum disease and its effects, regular dental checkups and periodontal examinations are very important. Treatment methods depend upon the type of disease and how far the condition has progressed. Good dental care at home is essential to help keep periodontal disease from becoming more serious or recurring.
Remember: You don’t have to lose teeth to gum disease. Brush your teeth twice a day, clean between your teeth daily (flossing), eat a balanced diet, get seven or more hours of sleep, reduce the use of alcohol, stop using tobacco and schedule regular dental visits to ensure a lifetime of healthy teeth and beautiful smiles.