It’s a commonly believed truism, even among some dentists: if not treated, the mild form of gum disease, gingivitis, naturally progresses to the more severe form, periodontitis. But there’s a lot of research proving that this isn’t necessarily the case.

Instead, periodontitis and gingivitis are almost like separate diseases, and gingivitis may never actually develop into periodontitis, but new research may help us develop new tests to tell the difference.

A woman brushing her teeth

Understanding the Difference: Gingivitis vs. Periodontitis

Both gingivitis and periodontitis are forms of gum disease. Gingivitis is a relatively minor form that can be harmless if properly controlled. Gingivitis is characterized by swelling gums, tender gums, red gums, and bleeding gums. If left untreated, it can lead to gum recession, but is rarely associated with tooth loss.

Periodontitis, on the other hand, is a form of gum disease characterized by an aggressive attack on the spaces between the gums and the teeth. The pockets around the teeth become deeper and deeper as bacteria and then your body’s immune system attack gums, bones, and the periodontal ligaments that hold your teeth in place. Teeth become loose, and, if they’re not treated, they can be lost.

Completely Different Ecologies

As we often see people with gingivitis develop periodontitis if their gum disease isn’t treated, it’s natural to presume that untreated gingivitis naturally worsens into periodontitis. But that doesn’t explain why for some people the progression seems to happen very quickly, while for other people the progression takes a long time or, possibly, never happens at all.

There are explanations for why this happens, though. One of the explanations recently received support from researchers who traveled from many countries to study oral infections in Malawi. They discovered that periodontitis and gingivitis actually have completely different ecologies. That is, they are made up of different populations of oral bacteria, which create different environments and exploiting different resources. These researchers have identified certain types of bacteria that were found in people with periodontitis, but not in those with gingivitis. They claim that it’s these different species that are responsible for the change, and that tests for these bacteria could help detect and treat periodontitis.

But Maybe It’s Not That Simple

It would be nice to believe that it’s exposure to certain types of bacteria that causes periodontitis rather than gingivitis. That would make control of periodontitis as simple as infection control. Stop the spread of these certain bacteria and we can stop the spread of gum disease. Unfortunately, it’s probably not going to be that easy.

There are many questions remaining about periodontitis. Like for example, why some relatively harmless bacteria sometimes have a symbiotic relationship with some very dangerous ones. And why some people’s bodies have a pyrrhic response to gum disease, destroying as much or more bone than the bacteria themselves. And what makes some people’s mouths hospitable to these bad bacteria in the first place. These questions remain unanswered, and they mean that it will likely be a long time before we are able to have a good test for periodontitis before we see its damaging effects.

Perio Protect Can Help Combat Gum Disease

Fortunately, when periodontitis surfaces, Perio Protect can help eliminate it. Perio Protect uses a special system to deliver antibacterial medication even below the gum line. This is a noninvasive way to keep gum disease under control so you can save yourself the discomfort of an invasive gum procedure–and save your teeth. It’s an excellent supplement to your regular oral hygiene and dentist visits.

If you are currently battling gum disease and want to learn more about the benefits of Perio Protect in Columbus, OH, please call (614) 848-5001 today for an appointment with dentist Mike Firouzian.