About Gingivitis, Periodontitis and Gum Disease

About Gingivitis, Periodontitis and Gum Disease

In days gone by, it was the norm for people to have full dentures at quite a young age: we expected to reach the end of our days without our teeth, and perfectly good teeth were removed to place full dentures. This is not the case in 2011: dentists expect that most people will retain their natural teeth for life.

Sadly, some people will struggle to keep their natural teeth, all because of Gum Disease. Gum Disease is the leading cause of tooth loss in adults, but it is a preventable disease.The key is early diagnosis and treatment.


The first stage of gum disease is called Gingivitis- a word which simply means “inflammation of the gums”.

Common signs of gingivitis are

  • swollen or tender gums
  • gums that bleed when you brush or floss
  • receding gums
  • plaque and tartar buildup
  • bad breath

The main cause of gingivitis is the buildup of plaque along the gemlike. Plaque is a thin, sticky and colourless film of harmful bacteria, which can harden into tartar in as little as 24 hours.The bacteria in the plaque cause irritation to the gums. Like any inflammatory response elsewhere in the body, the gums respond to the bacteria by experiencing an increased blood flow (hence the redness and swelling) as the body brings more white blood cells to the area to fight the bacteria and their toxins.

At this stage there is no irreversible damage to the gums or the fibres and bone that support them. If the tartar and plaque is removed, and the gumline remains clean through effective daily brushing and flossing, the irritation will heal and gums will become healthy once again.


Without treatment, gingivitis can develop into the more serious form of gum disease: periodontitis. The word periodontitis means inflammation of the fibres and bone which support the gums.

During this stage, the gums start to separate and recede from the teeth. This allows the plaque to make its way deeper below the gums towards the roots and bone around the teeth, It is very difficult to brush plaque away form the space below the gumline, and so without treatment this stage is often self-fuelling, and can progress quite rapidly.

If the bone and fibres supporting the teeth are destroyed by periodontitis, the teeth will become loose and very often need to be removed.


The treatment of periodontitis involves professional cleaning of the difficult to reach spaces below the gumline, often involving surgery to ensure all the spaces can be reached. Often a complex home dental hygiene routine is required, and appointments for professional care are scheduled three-monthly. Sometimes loose teeth need to be splinted to their firmer neighbours to improve comfort.

Very often the most advanced form of periodontitis are managed by a dental specialist: the Periodontist.

Prevention of Gum Disease

The best way to combat Gum Disease is through better oral dental hygiene. This includes daily thorough brushing and flossing, and regular dental checkups.

Gum disease has been linked to heart disease, diabetes and complications during pregnancy including premature birth. So if you have noticed any of the early signs, especially bleeding of the gums during brushing and flossing, please let your Dentist and Hygienist know.