What is the Difference between Gingivitis and Periodontitis?

If you are having pain, swelling, redness, or sensitivity in your gumline, you may be experiencing the symptoms of gum disease. Your dentist will be able to tell you for sure if these are related to gingivitis or periodontitis, which are two serious diseases of the gums.

But there is a major difference between the two diagnoses: One is reversible, and one is not.

For patients dealing with bleeding, red, and sensitive gums this information may come as a relief, or it may cause you further alarm. Before you panic, take a deep breath, and read on to discover which is which — and what you can do about both of them.

What is Gingivitis?

Gingivitis, or inflammation of the gums, is often considered early-stage periodontal disease. At this point, bacteria-containing plaque has begun to accumulate between your teeth and even below the gumline. Your gums may bleed during tooth brushing or become red and swollen. But even though your gums are clearly irritated, your teeth are not loose. There is no bone or tissue damage occurring to your gums.

This irritation is caused by a buildup of plaque in between the spaces of your teeth and below your gums. When you don’t brush and floss properly, this plaque releases acids that can erode the outer shell of your teeth and cause harm. After three days, your plaque will harden into tartar, which makes it even harder to clean well between teeth and gums. When tartar builds up, it can irritate and inflame the gum tissue, causing gingivitis.

The good news is that not all gingivitis goes on to become the much more serious periodontitis, and most of the time it can be prevented and reversed with good oral hygiene. That’s right. Simply brush twice a day, floss, and visit your dentist twice a year and chances are you will be fine.

But make no mistake, gingivitis is a clear warning to do better with your oral hygiene to prevent worse issues from occurring. And what could be worse? Periodontitis.

What is Periodontitis?

When gingivitis remains untreated, it can advance to periodontitis. In this disease, toxins produced by plaque as well as your body’s infection-fighting enzymes begin to break down the connective tissue and bone that help to hold your teeth in place. Eventually they become too loose to be held securely in your gums and they fall out. Worse yet, periodontitis causes lasting damage that often cannot be reversed. There are several types of periodontitis:


The chronic type of periodontitis is the one most commonly seen in dental offices. Generally, patients with this condition present with gums that are receding, and where pockets have formed between teeth and gums. This type of periodontitis is seen primarily in adults, and in many cases, adults over the age of 35.


Although gum diseases are typically rarely seen in young children, some are affected by aggressive periodontitis. This type of periodontitis can occur in kids as young as three, even though it mostly affects adults. Within this category are localized juvenile periodontitis, a condition affecting adolescents in which their mouth is over-colonized with bacteria from the gums. Another condition, prepubertal periodontitis, causes problems in children right after their adult teeth break through the gums.


This type of periodontitis is the most severe of all three. It can rapidly destroy tissues in the mouth, including bones and ligaments. It is most common in smokers, people who are malnourished, and those with compromised immune systems.

Treatments for Gum Disease

Depending on the severity of your gum disease, treatment can be either surgical or nonsurgical.

A mild case of gingivitis may just require a good dental cleaning and an amplified home oral care routine. More serious cases of gingivitis and mild periodontal disease may require a deep cleaning called root planing and tooth scaling to remove plaque and tartar build up from below the gumline. Antibiotics may also be used to reduce bacteria and help your body recover from the inflammation.

If you require surgical care due to advanced periodontal disease, treatments will include procedures to reduce or eliminate pockets surrounding the teeth, the removal of excess gum tissue, techniques to assist with the regeneration of tissue and bone, and even soft tissue grafts to reduce or prevent tooth loss and cover exposed areas of bone.

Importantly, the successful treatment of periodontal disease at any stage depends upon seeing your dentist regularly for checkups and cleanings and following — or improving upon — a good home oral hygiene routine. If you smoke, reducing the use of tobacco can also help with recovery and prevention of gum disease.

Are You Concerned About Your Gums in West Covina?

If you are reading this, chances are you may have questions or concerns about the health of your teeth and gums. At Dentist of West Covina, we are here to help with the latest dental techniques and technologies that will help us assess, diagnose, and effectively treat gum disease.

If you’re in the West Covina area, call our office today and come in for an oral assessment. The sooner you come in, the sooner we can get you — and your smile — back on the road to health and recovery.

Don’t let worries about gum disease keep you up at night. Contact us at (626) 605-6601 and get your oral health checked out today. .


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