Gum disease, technically known as periodontitis or periodontal disease, starts with the growth of bacteria in the mouth and if not treated, will end up destroying the tissue surrounding your teeth.  This could eventually lead to tooth loss.

Is periodontitis the same as gingivitis?

Gingivitis, refers to inflammation of the gums, whereas periodontitis is gum disease. Gingivitis usually starts before periodontitis and most cases of untreated gingivitis result in periodontitis.

At the onset of gingivitis, bacteria contained in plaque will cause inflammation of the gums and you’ll notice bleeding when you brush your teeth. At this stage, your teeth will still be strongly rooted to their sockets. There’ll also be no signs of bone damage or tissue damage.

When you don’t treat gingivitis, it will become severe and you’ll develop periodontitis. When you have periodontitis, your gums and bone will start to detach from your teeth and the spaces they leave will be inhabited by dirt and get infected. If this goes untreated, the gums and bone will keep detaching from your teeth and eventually, your teeth will fall off. Gum disease is the main cause of tooth loss among adults.

Causes of Gum Disease

The main cause of gum disease is plaque. There are however other factors that can contribute and these include:

  • Hormonal changes, which will occur due to menstrual periods or at menopause or while pregnant, will cause teeth to become sensitive, increasing the likelihood of getting gingivitis.
  • Diseases such as HIV/AIDS, diabetes and cancer affect your body’s ability to fight infections and this could pre-dispose you to cavities, gingivitis and periodontitis.
  • Medications that interfere with salivary flow by drying the mouth will deny your teeth and gums the necessary protection from saliva. Other drugs will also cause gum tissue to grow abnormally.
  • Bad lifestyle habits like cigarette smoking will interfere with your gums’ ability to repair themselves.
  • Bad oral hygiene, like failing to brush or floss your teeth, will increase the likelihood of developing gingivitis.
  • If your family has a history of suffering from gingivitis, there’s a high likelihood you’ll get it.

How will you know when you have gum disease?

The following are warning signs of gum disease that you should look out for:

  • Bleeding gums, especially when brushing and sometimes after
  • Swollen, tender gums that have a red appearance
  • Bad breath that seems to persist
  • Receding gums
  • Formation of spaces between your teeth and gums
  • Loose teeth
  • Changes in bite or a shift in how your bridges fit.

Even if you don’t notice these signs, it’s advisable to visit a dentist frequently so that diagnosis could be done early. Your dentist will check for the symptoms above and will also take x-rays to reveal any damage to your jawbone.


Treatment of gum disease is aimed at reversing the progression of infection, swelling and deepening of the gap that’s between the gums and teeth. How your dentist treats gum disease will depend on how advanced the infection is.


The best way to manage gum disease is by taking preventive measures, which means you have to control plaque. You can ensure plaque control by brushing and flossing and getting your teeth professionally cleaned twice yearly.

Other measures to take include:

  • Stop smoking. As a smoker or user of tobacco, your chances of developing periodontitis are a lot higher than the chances of a non-smoker.
  • Reduce your levels of stress to boost your immunity.
  • Eat a well-balanced diet.
  • Avoid grinding your teeth.