Gum Disease 101: Understanding the Difference Between Gingivitis & Periodontitis


If you’ve seen a toothpaste or mouthwash ad on TV, you’re probably familiar with how these products ‘protect against gum disease and gingivitis’. But to the ears of a dentist — who cannot show his face on TV — this (admittedly catchy) tagline sounds about as repetitive as a doctor saying that a ‘mask protects against coronavirus and COVID-19’. While we all know that COVID-19 is a coronavirus variant, fewer of us realise that gingivitis is synonymous with stage-1 gum disease — and that there can be a separate stage 2, too, to follow.

If you’re unsure of the distinction between gingivitis and periodontitis, it’s time to fill those holes in your knowledge — before the time comes to fill holes in your teeth*

(*Should you ever need this service, you can count on us to deliver durable, aesthetic white fillings — stain-free, negating any need for teeth whitening treatments, including Zoom teeth whitening.)

What Is Gum Disease?

Returning to basics, gum disease is inflammation of the tissue that surrounds teeth and holds them in place. When plaque — a sticky, bacteria-rich coating — builds up along the gum line and on the teeth, your immune system tries eliminating it with an inflammatory response. Unfortunately, this inflammation manifests as gum swelling and redness, which is the hallmark of gum disease. Inflammation can also present as bleeding gums, especially during brushing, flossing or eating. These symptoms paint a picture of gingivitis: the first stage of gum disease, which is also the most reversible. It’s when gum disease progresses to periodontal proportions that you could lose your foundational tissues — and, consequently, actual teeth*.

(*Should this ever happen, we have a range of restorative dentistry options available, such as dental implants, bridges and crowns, the last of which we can arrange in a single appointment, thanks to our CEREC technology. For more significant tooth loss, ask us about our dentures and All-On-4 dental implants.)

Stage 1: Gingivitis

Etymological breakdown: ‘gingiv-’ is a prefix pertaining to the gums, while ‘-itis’ is a (likely more familiar) suffix denoting inflammation to an organ. Compounded together, this prefix and suffix give a name to the first stage of gum disease, which is the least serious and the most treatable. Though red, swollen and bleeding gums are the common tell of gingivitis, you can also have it without symptoms — and, ergo, without realising.

Whether gingivitis presents symptoms or not, it’s important to eliminate it, lest it develops into periodontitis. The hastiest way to healthier gums starts at home, with at least two daily instances of toothbrushing and one instance of flossing. If your gums are tender to touch, you should still push through the pain — perhaps with a softer-bristled toothbrush — as this is the most direct approach to eliminating that pesky plaque. You can also gargle with an antiseptic mouthwash containing chlorhexidine if you can find one.

Failing all of the above, it may be time for a dental checkup and clean at Stanley St. Dental — even if you’re running ahead of schedule. Sometimes, you need a dental professional to dig into those hard-to-reach grooves and relieve your whole mouth with a plaque-alleviating deep clean.

Stage 2: Periodontitis

‘Periodontium’ is a catch-all name for the bone- and gum-based structures surrounding and supporting teeth. While gingivitis affects only the gum’s surface layers, periodontitis or periodontal gum disease is a deeper issue — literally — surpassing the gum’s protective seal and wreaking havoc on the deep-seated periodontium. This advanced stage of gum disease is the natural consequence of untreated gingivitis, affecting the cementum (tooth root covering) and the periodontal ligament (the fibres and bone connecting tooth to jawbone).

If periodontitis has broken through the gummy seal, it can form periodontal pockets: spaces between the gum and tooth roots vulnerable to bacteria accumulation, which can cause further periodontal damage. The longer they’re left untreated, the more bones get lost or damaged, contributing to more gaping gaps. These can appear as black triangles between teeth. At its worst, periodontitis damages the tooth-upholding structures, resulting in painful and loose teeth that either fall out or require tooth extraction. Do you have any of the following periodontal symptoms?

  • Gums that are red or discoloured, swollen or puffy, receding, or bleeding (especially when brushing, flossing, or eating)
  • Teeth that are sensitive or painful (especially when chewing)
  • Structural changes to the teeth, including positional changes or movement along the gum line, dental spacing, looseness, or loss (including bone loss around the jaw)
  • Dental abscess
  • Halitosis (persistent bad breath) or a foul taste in the mouth.


Because periodontitis is a late-stage gum disease that feeds off the foundations of teeth, it ranks higher than gingivitis in order of urgency. It may even require an emergency dentist if it brings significant pain or bleeding or causes tooth loss. Whatever the situation, you should schedule a professional clean with us sooner rather than later so that we can remove plaque and calculus (hardened plaque), the act of which can help gums reattach to teeth. If we intervene early enough, we can reverse periodontal effects and potentially save affected teeth.

Gum Disease 102: Resolving Gingivitis or Periodontitis

If this blog has left a bad taste in your mouth, you might want to check if that taste is literal — that’s one of the signs of gum disease. In any case, if anything in this blog hits a sore spot, your mouth may be a hot spot for gingivitis or periodontitis. To manage your condition, your first port of call is to review your home dental care routine: are you brushing twice daily? Are you flossing every day? Are you brushing in circular motions for at least two minutes, ensuring your brush makes contact with your gums, as well? Gum disease often arises due to poor home care, sugary food choices, or smoking, so it could make all the difference to improve current practices or eliminate bad habits.

Your next step is to book an appointment online at Stanley St. Dental. Alternatively, you can lock in your booking the old-fashioned way by dialling (03) 9042 6001. Sometimes, it only takes an opinion from a holistic dentist to gain insight from all angles and correct any poor dental habits. So, if you’re nearing the cusp of gingivitis or succumbing to the throes of periodontal decay, we’ll do what we can to pull you out of it, clean you up, and develop a treatment plan for your gum disease. Whether a deep dental cleaning will do the trick or you need more of a restorative solution, you can count on our treatments and remedies to eliminate gum disease and set you off smiling on a healthier path. Enjoy life without gum disease — book Stanley St. Dental today!

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