What is the difference between gingivitis and periodontal disease? How can they be treated?

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Gingivitis: A Warning Sign

Gingivitis is inflammation of the gum tissue caused by buildup of bacteria and plaque. It can be treated effectively by careful brushing and flossing at home as well as regular professional dental checkups. Gingivitis is the earliest sign of periodontal disease. Symptoms include redness and inflammation of gum tissue and bleeding of the gums when brushing and flossing. Gingivitis should be treated as a warning sign, because it is reversible. Proper brushing and flossing, combined with regular professional dental cleanings, will likely return your gums to full health and prevent periodontal disease. If left untreated, gingivitis will progress into periodontal disease.

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Periodontal Disease

Periodontal disease is the result of plaque and bacteria buildup over time. All it takes is 24-48 hours for plaque to mineralize and become tartar. Tartar (AKA Calculus) acts as a sliver that gets between your gums and teeth. Like a wedge, tartar can open a gap between the teeth and gums, known as a “pocket,” which collects bacteria and plaque. These bacteria not only eat away at teeth and cause cavities, but they also eat away at jaw bone. Surprisingly, this is not painful and many people are unaware that they have periodontal disease. As you can imagine, loss of jaw bone results in loss of teeth. Damage to jaw bone from periodontal disease is irreversible.

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The only way to treat periodontal disease is to see your dental hygienist. The hygienist can perform therapy to prevent further damage. First, the entire root surface of affected teeth needs to be cleaned so that your gum tissue can heal and reduce the pockets around teeth. This involves an extensive “deep cleaning,” below the surface of the gums, which is known as Scaling and Root Planing. This is not a routine dental cleaning. Once a person has undergone Scaling and Root Planing, it is critically important to visit the dentist every 3, 4 or 6 months depending on the recommendation of your dentist. The reason these maintenance visits are more important than ever is to prevent future loss of jaw bone, which will give the best chance possible to preserve teeth when done in combination with proper brushing and flossing at home.

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