Differences between Gingivitis & Periodontal Disease

This is a simple question, but patients are often confused by the difference. Dental offices often don’t do a good job explaining the difference.  Sadly, periodontal disease is still one of the most under-diagnosed and under-treated diseases in the United States.   Sadly, many patients believe that treatment for periodontal disease is uncomfortable or doesn’t work well.  Fortunately, we now have a genuine treatment that both works and is comfortable: Laser Periodontal TherapyTM.  Still, it is important to understand the difference between gingivitis and periodontal disease.


In the simplest terms, gingivitis is inflammation of the gums, caused by a build-up of plaque around the teeth.  It happens quickly, if you don’t regularly brush and floss. Think of it like a paper cut on your skin: it gets red, irritated, sore, and may bleed a bit, but if you take good care of it by putting ointment on and a bandaid (the equivalent of good brushing and flossing), it will go away quickly.
What do you need to do to cure gingivitis?

  1. Brushing at least twice/day
  2. Flossing at least once, preferably twice/day, with good technique, and possibly
  3. Using a non-alcohol-based, fluoride mouthrinse.

If left untreated, gingivitis can progress to become periodontal disease if there are other contributing factors, but it does not automatically do so, and it can be reversed with improved care of your teeth and gums.

Periodontitis (Gum Disease)

Periodontal Disease is not just inflammation, but infection.  That means so many bacteria have built up in the plaque, tartar, and gum tissue, your immune system is overwhelmed.  There are several ways to determine how advanced the infection is:

  1. Periodontal Measurements:  We measure how well the gums are attached to the teeth with a little ruler, called a periodontal probe.  It tells how deep the pockets around the teeth are.  Here are the criteria we use:
    1. Pockets of 3mm or less = healthy.
    2. Pockets of 3mm or less with minor bleeding = gingivitis.
    3. Pockets over 4mm deep with bleeding indicates early periodontal disease.  There are reasons why 4mm or even deeper pockets do not necessarily mean there is active gum disease.  Pocket depth is one of the most reliable diagnostic methods though.
  2. Assessing the amount of calculus, also known as tartar, visible on x-rays and can be felt with instruments.  Given how much tartar must be present for it to show up on x-rays, if large pieces can be seen on x-rays, that is an indication that gum disease is present.
  3. Bone loss.  When gum disease starts getting moderately advanced, the bacterial by-products and your body’s immune system get locked into a serious battle.  The resulting chemicals and enzymes cause bone to be destroyed.  We evaluate bone loss on x-rays.  Once bone has been destroyed, it is very difficult to regenerate, and only 1 treatment has been shown to consistently stimulate bone growth: LANAP, or Laser-Assisted New Attachment Protocol.

Treating Periodontal Disease is Important for Health

Here’s the thing to remember about Periodontal Disease: because your mouth is connected to the rest of your body, the bacteria that cause chronic gum disease do get into your blood stream and spread throughout your body.  These bacteria and the inflammatory products they create have been associated with an increase in the risk of heart attack, stroke, diabetes, and more.  Bear in mind – that does NOT mean that gum disease causes those conditions, and we’re not even sure if it’s purely coincidental.  However, it is a chronic infection in your mouth, and that’s obviously bad.  It’s not just your teeth at risk – it’s your total health.  If you’re concerned you have gum disease, see if you have any of these signs/symptoms:

  • Bleeding gums when brushing or flossing
  • Mouth sores
  • Bright red, red-purple or shiny gums
  • Gums that are tender to the touch
  • Constant bad breath that does not go away

To make an appointment for a Complimentary Consultation:

Request an Appointment Online or call us at 704-364-7069.

We’ll look forward to meeting you soon!

Back to blog home