So what is this gingivitis that the dentist keeps telling me about? And how is it different than periodontitis?

The simple answer would be that gingivitis is an inflammation of your gums, or gingiva. The long answer would be that gingivitis is the beginning of a disease process initiated by bacteria in your mouth, which has the potential to progress into periodontitis. I know... keep it simple right?

So to expand on the simple answer, it's important to state again that having bacteria in your mouth is normal. The first step to getting gingivitis is allowing plaque, that white stuff that forms along your gum line, to accumulate on your gums. This plaque allows the bacteria to live close to your gums and teeth. Some of these bacteria will eventually cause gingivitis and then periodontitis, and other types of bacteria will cause cavities.

Now you can see why your dentist and hygienist always stress keeping this plaque from accumulating on your teeth. The plaque itself is not particularly harmful but it allows these bacteria to stay on your teeth and gums.

Well, the bacteria that causes gingivitis start to overgrow within this plaque. Their waste-products begin to accumulate and your immune system starts to react to this build-up of bacteria and waste-products. The inflammation is actually your gums trying to fight off this bacterial infection.

If the plaque and its bacteria stay too long on your gums, the inflammation begins to spread to the bone underneath your gums. Once the inflammation reaches this stage, this bone under the gums start to recede away from their normal levels. This is basically a self-destruction of your jaw bone, that as it progresses causes your teeth to become loose. When the inflammation begins to affect the underlying bone, it is called periodontitis.

Not everybody with gingivitis will get periodontitis because this depends not only on plaque, but the person's genetics and the specific bacteria present in the plaque. Since it is nearly impossible to determine every patient's genetic make-up and its expensive to perform the lab tests necessary to identify specific bacteria in the plaque, we as dentist recommend everyone to keep plaque off their teeth and seek immediate treatment for gingivitis.

Next time, we'll get into the different treatments available for gingivitis and periodontitis.

Dental Topics: Prevention Through Education
The field of dentistry has benefitted greatly from the advancements in materials and technologies to help promote good oral health. Yet as a dentist myself, I've seen that my profession has embraced these new technologies at the risk of spending less time promoting "prevention through education." The truth is the healthiest mouths are not the mouths of the wealthiest people, but rather the mouths of educated people. This blog is my effort to educate the public and promote good oral health.