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Healthy gums: the difference between gingivitis and periodontitis

Healthy gums: the difference between gingivitis and periodontitis

Created: September 22, 2022 | Updated: March 22, 2024

Gums are essential to the health of your teeth. It protects your jawbone and ensures that your tooth roots are not exposed. Healthy gums are pink, firm and do not bleed while brushing. Gum disease is unfortunately common. In this article, we discuss the two most common: gingivitis and periodontitis. We explain what the difference is, how to recognise them and what you can do to prevent and treat them.

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Gingivitis vs periodontitis, what’s the difference?

The Latin word for gums is gingiva and anything ending in -itis indicates inflammation. So gingivitis is gum inflammation. Bacteria in your plaque can excrete substances that irritate the gums. This is how gingivitis occurs. Gingivitis is inflammation of the gums caused by bacteria in plaque.

  • Symptoms: red, swollen and bleeding gums.
  • Treatment: good oral hygiene with fluoride-containing toothpaste, toothpicks or floss and professional cleaning by the dentist.
    If the inflammation has spread towards your jawbone, we call it periodontitis.

So periodontitis is a more serious, painful version of gingivitis where your teeth can fall out. Periodontitis is a more serious form of gum disease that affects the jawbone.

  • Symptoms: loose gums, deep pockets between tooth and gums, pus, tooth sensitivity and changing tooth position.
  • Treatment: professional cleaning by the dentist, root canal treatment, surgery (in severe cases) and antibiotics.

How to recognise gingivitis and periodontitis?

Healthy gums do not bleed when you brush your teeth. Yet it does happen occasionally. Do your gums have a fiery red colour, are swollen or loose? Does your breath not smell fresh without having eaten garlic? Then chances are you have (incipient) gum inflammation. You can do a lot about this yourself through good oral hygiene. If it bothers you a lot, a visit to the dentist is recommended. If you do nothing about your (incipient) gingivitis, the inflammation will have a chance to spread to your jawbone. 1 Your gums will then become increasingly loose and plaque will cause your jawbone to crumble. Teeth and molars no longer have a hold on your jawbone and gums, and fall out of your mouth.

  • Healthy gums: pink, firm and do not bleed while brushing.
  • Gingivitis: red, swollen and bleeding gums.
  • Parodontitis: loose gums, deep pockets between tooth and gums, pus, tooth sensitivity and changing tooth position.

Gum disease gingivitis and periodontitis

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Importance of the right treatment

As mentioned above, your teeth can fall out if you ignore gum disease. Treating periodontitis differs from treating gingivitis and can only be done by a dentist. If you wait too long to do so, you may only be able to see a periodontist, a dentist specialising in gums. There is an increasing chance that they can still save your teeth from falling out, but surgeries like this are so easily preventable by maintaining good oral hygiene and seeing your dentist in time at signs of gum disease.

What can you do about gingivitis?

Brush, brush and brush again. Daily, preferably twice and up to three times. With a toothpaste that strengthens your gums. Brush well and gently along the edges of your gums. Use floss, toothpicks and brushes for the areas your toothbrush cannot reach properly. Rinse your mouth with an antibacterial rinse and before you know it, your gums will be stronger than ever.

What can you do about periodontitis?

To treat periodontitis, you should visit a dentist immediately. In severe cases, you will get a referral to a specialist, the periodontist.

Prevent gum disease with good oral hygiene

To prevent gingivitis and to treat (incipient) gingivitis, good oral hygiene is important. This includes brushing your gums daily. With a soft brush, because gums are sensitive. If you brush too hard, your gums will pull back irreparably. Cleaning between the teeth is also important, especially in places where the brush does not reach. Floss or dust daily to avoid giving plaque a chance.

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Related Trusted Sources

  • 1. Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care (IQWiG). (2020, 27 februari). Gingivitis and periodontitis: Overview. InformedHealth.org - NCBI Bookshelf. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK279593/

    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK279593/

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Frequently asked questions

Gingivitis is an (incipient) inflammation of your gums. If the inflammation is not only in your gums, but also in your jawbone, we call it periodontitis. Periodontitis is a very serious, untreated gingivitis.

In periodontitis, your jawbone is inflamed. At its worst, you notice this by teeth falling out. Your gums are loose, flaming red, painful and bleeding, especially when brushing.

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The American Dental Association (ADA) is a professional organisation dedicated to promoting oral health and improving the quality of dental care in the United States.

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