Gingivitis vs. Periodontitis: Key Differences & What to Do in Each Case

Have you been wondering whether what you may have is gingivitis or periodontitis? This short guide explains the difference to help you take the right steps.

Only some people know the difference between gingivitis and periodontitis. Knowing the distinction is essential because it can help you better understand your oral health and make more informed treatment decisions. This blog post will explore the key differences between gingivitis and periodontitis and what to do in each case.

What is Gingivitis?

Gingivitis is a gum disease caused by plaque buildup on the teeth. Plaque is an adhesive substance made up of bacteria, food particles, and saliva that accumulates on the teeth if not removed regularly with brushing or flossing.

When left untreated, gingivitis can lead to periodontal disease. Some common symptoms of gingivitis include:

  • Bleeding gums when brushing or flossing
  • Swollen or tender gums
  • Redness in the gum line
  • Bad breath (halitosis)
  • Receding gum lines around teeth
  • Visible plaque buildup on teeth surfaces

What is Periodontitis?

Periodontitis is a severe version of gum disease that results from untreated or poorly treated gingivitis. This condition causes inflammation and infection in the tissues that support your teeth, resulting in severe pain and discomfort. Some common symptoms of periodontitis include:

  • Severe pain when chewing or biting down on food
  • Recurring swelling and tenderness in the gums
  • Loose or shifting teeth
  • Gum recession
  • Formation of deep pockets between the teeth and gums
  • Visible pus between the teeth and gums
  • Bone loss around affected areas
  • Bad breath (halitosis)
  • Changes in bite alignment (malocclusion)

Risk Factors Associated With Gingivitis and Periodontitis

Several risk factors can increase the likelihood of developing both gingivitis and periodontitis, including:

  • Poor oral hygiene. Neglecting to brush and floss regularly can lead to the accumulation of plaque and bacteria, increasing the risk of gingivitis and periodontitis.
  • Tobacco use. Smoking and smokeless tobacco can increase the risk of gingivitis, periodontitis, and other oral health problems.
  • Hormonal changes. Hormonal changes during puberty, pregnancy, and menopause can increase the risk of gingivitis and periodontitis.
  • Stress. Psychological stress and high salivary cortisol levels increase the risk of gingivitis and periodontitis.
  • Certain medical conditions: Certain medical conditions, such as diabetes and HIV, can weaken the immune system and increase the risk of developing gingivitis and periodontitis, and other gum problems.
  • Certain medications. Medications, such as birth control pills and antidepressants, can cause dry mouth and increase the risk of gingivitis and periodontitis.
  • Genetics. Some people may be more susceptible to gum disease due to genetics.
  • Poor nutrition. A diet low in vitamins and minerals can weaken the immune system and increase the risk of gingivitis and periodontitis.
  • Age. As people age, their risk of developing gingivitis and periodontitis increases.
  • Systemic diseases. Certain systemic diseases, such as cardiovascular disease, can increase the risk of gingivitis and periodontitis.

Gingivitis Diagnosis

The first step in diagnosing gingivitis lies in medical history. It involves asking questions about the patient’s overall health, diet, stress levels, medications taken (if any), and lifestyle habits such as smoking or alcohol consumption.

A dental examination follows to check for signs of inflammation or infection in the gums and around the teeth. The dentist may also use a periodontal probe to measure pocket depth– how deep spaces form between the gum line and tooth roots. If there is evidence of gingival inflammation present during this exam, then a diagnosis of gingivitis is made.

Periodontal Disease Diagnosis

The diagnosis process for periodontal disease is similar to gingivitis. However, it requires further testing due to its potential severity and long-term effects on oral health.

Dentists may order X-rays or blood tests to help assess the extent of damage caused by periodontal disease. They may also refer patients with severe cases to specialists such as endodontists or periodontists for additional treatment.

Gingivitis Treatment Options

Some common treatment options for gingivitis include:

  • Good oral hygiene: Brushing teeth twice daily and flossing daily can help remove plaque and prevent gingivitis.
  • Professional dental cleanings: A dentist or dental hygienist can remove plaque and tartar buildup that regular brushing and flossing can’t reach.
  • Antibacterial mouthwash: An antiseptic mouthwash can help kill harmful bacteria and reduce inflammation.
  • Medications: In severe cases, your dentist may prescribe antibiotics or anti-inflammatory drugs to help control infection and reduce swelling.
  • Improved nutrition: Eating a healthy diet with adequate vitamins and minerals, particularly Vitamins C and D, can help promote healthy gums.

Seek professional dental treatment for gingivitis to avoid progression to more serious conditions like periodontitis. Early treatment and good oral hygiene practices can help prevent gingivitis from becoming more serious.

Periodontitis Treatment Options

Periodontitis is a more severe form of gum disease that can destroy the tissues and bones supporting teeth. Some common treatment options for periodontitis include:

  • Scaling and root planing: Scaling and root planing involve removing plaque and tartar buildup from the teeth and gum line. The procedure smoothens the roots of the teeth to remove any rough or uneven surfaces that can trap plaque and bacteria.
  • Antibiotic therapy: Your dentist may prescribe antibiotics to help kill harmful bacteria and reduce inflammation.
  • Surgery: In severe cases, periodontal surgery may be necessary to remove pockets of infection and to smooth rough areas on the roots to reduce areas where bacteria can hide.
  • Laser therapy: Laser therapy uses focused light energy to kill bacteria and remove damaged tissue, promoting healing and reducing inflammation.
  • Medicines: Antibiotics and antimicrobial mouth rinses can be prescribed to help control infection and reduce inflammation.
  • Improved oral hygiene: Good oral hygiene practices, including regular brushing and flossing, are important in maintaining gums and preventing the progression of periodontitis.

Seek prompt treatment for periodontitis. Your dentist can recommend the best treatment options for your individual needs.

How to Prevent Gingivitis and Periodontitis

Preventing gingivitis and periodontitis starts with good oral hygiene practices, such as brushing your teeth twice a day with fluoride toothpaste, flossing daily, and using an antiseptic mouthwash. A healthy diet low in sugar and rich in vitamins and minerals can also help promote healthy gums.

Quitting smoking and avoiding the use of tobacco products can also significantly reduce the risk of developing gum disease. Regular dental check-ups and professional cleanings are also important in removing plaque and tartar buildup, detecting and treating gum problems early, and maintaining healthy gums.


Gingivitis and periodontitis are two distinct forms of gum disease that can significantly impact oral health. Gingivitis is a mild form of gum disease often treatable with good oral hygiene practices and professional dental cleanings. Periodontitis is a severe gum disease that can lead to tooth loss and other oral health problems if left untreated.

Understanding the key differences between gingivitis and periodontitis is essential for maintaining oral health. If you suspect gingivitis or periodontitis, book an appointment with our specialist today for treatment.


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