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. Perfectly good teeth were often removed to place full dentures. This is no longer the case: these days 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 to prevention is early diagnosis and treatment.


The first stage of gum disease is “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 gumline.

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 irritate the gums. Like tissues elsewhere in the body, the gums respond to the bacteria by becoming inflamed. The body increases blood flow to the area to bring more white blood cells to the area to fight the bacteria and their toxins. This increased blood flow is what causes the redness and swelling of the gums.

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 away from the teeth. This allows the plaque to settle below the gums. It is very difficult to brush plaque away from below the gumline. Without treatment, this stage is often self-fuelling, and can progress quite rapidly.

Teeth become loose if the bone and fibres supporting them are destroyed by periodontitis. The dentist will extract the teeth if they are uncomfortable or interfering with chewing.


The treatment of periodontitis involves professional cleaning of the difficult to reach spaces below the gumline. Minor surgery may be needed to open the gums to ensure all of the plaque and tartar can be removed. The gum can then be stitched back over the newly-cleaned tooth roots.

The patients usually needs to commit to undertaking a thorough daily dental hygiene routine at home. Appointments for professional care may be scheduled as regularly as three-monthly. Sometimes the dentist will splint loose teeth to their firmer neighbours to keep them stable and improve comfort.

We refer the most advanced forms of periodontitis to a specialist Periodontist for management.

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.


  • This article was originally published on our website on December 29, 2011.
  • Most recent update: April 30, 2019