About Your Teeth Gingivitis vs Gum Disease: What's the Difference? - About Your Teeth

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Gingivitis vs Gum Disease: What’s the Difference?


Eighty percent of American adults and a similar percentage of Australians have some form of periodontal (gum) disease. The early symptoms are usually painless, so many adults who are at risk do not recognise the signs and stages and are therefore hiding a potentially destructive and debilitating condition.

“Gum disease is a silent tooth killer because you can have it without knowing it.”

Healthy gums appear pale pink, firm and form a sharp point where they meet the tooth. When excessive amounts of bacteria and food debris build up in the spaces between the teeth and gums, a sticky material called plaque is formed.

A plaque build-up can develop and harden into calculus (tartar), which irritates the gums. Bacterial byproducts (or toxins) in the tartar cause gums to become irritated, red and tender and eventually infected in a condition called gingivitis. Gingivitis is the beginning stage of periodontal disease.

If you do not receive professional cleaning and maintain clean teeth, the gum irritation may spread from the gums to the ligaments and bone supporting the teeth. The tissues and ligaments will be damaged and eventually destroyed by your own immune cells brought in to battle the infection and bacteria; further infections are likely to develop, causing a gum abscess, a collection of pus and swelling of gum tissues. Teeth may become loose and the gums may recede, creating increased spaces between teeth.

Hygienists are trained to treat gingivitis by professional and thorough removal of this plaque and tartar, prescribing special mouthwashes or topical treatments and by providing you with the best tools to help you keep your teeth clean. Once gingivitis has progressed to ‘gum disease’, treatment becomes more complicated and involves more serious action such as antibiotics and antimicrobials, deep scaling of the root surface, removing infected gum tissue or extracting teeth. To avoid these potentially painful symptoms and treatments, it is important to catch the disease in its earlier stages.

Not everyone with irritated gums will go on to develop gum disease. Some patients are genetically blessed. But because the condition has very few early symptoms, it is recommended that everyone brush and floss regularly and don’t forget those dental checkups. In addition, maintaining a healthy diet and low levels of stress boost the body’s natural immune system, which fights bacteria in the mouth.

Early warning signs of gum disease:

Bleeding gums when brushing or flossing
Mouth sores
Bright red, red-purple or shiny gums
Gums that are tender to the touch

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