Periodontal Disease and Gingivitis – What’s the Difference?

dental exam

Visiting your dentist for routine cleanings and checkups is more than “just a cleaning.” During your visit, we assess your gum tissues for disease, check the hard structures for decay and educate as well as coach patients on how to achieve optimal dental health.

In order to diagnose any type of disease in the mouth, a few things are needed. Dental x-rays based on ADA recommendations and patient risk factors, as well as history are updated. X-rays help the dentist and hygienist determine if there are cavities, any areas of bone loss and screen for dental tumors, cysts, etc.

After x-rays are consulted, your dentist or hygienist will also “screen for gum disease” with a process called probing. We use a special measuring instrument to check the depths around each tooth. We measure six different spots per tooth and as numbers are being called off, it can seem quite confusing! The higher the number, the more gingival inflammation or bone loss that is present. Numbers between one and three are acceptable. These are healthy readings. Measurements of 4 or greater can indicate gingivitis or periodontal disease. Areas of bleeding are also assessed for these same purposes.

If we’ve found a few four-millimeter readings as well as some areas of bleeding during probing, in general, your dentist or hygienist will probably discuss gingivitis. Gingivitis is inflammation in the gingiva, or simply put, gums. It is not typical for gums to bleed each time one brushes or flosses. If this occurs, there is likely bacteria that is not being cleaned out properly around the tooth. With proper brushing and correct flossing techniques and routines, gingivitis can be corrected! Gingivitis is reversible with changes to your oral care habits!

What happens if you hear readings of five millimeters or greater? You’ll be hearing the words periodontal disease. At this point, there is permanent bone loss that has occurred and this is why your probe readings are higher. Pockets deeper than four millimeters are hard to access for both the patient and hygienist. Special cleanings with anesthetic are often used to properly clean deeper pockets and allow for the tissues to heal. A patient may also be referred to a periodontist if pocket depths are too deep to clean without surgical help. Periodontal disease can be managed and improved the same way gingivitis can, however, periodontal disease means bone loss. There has been permanent damage done to the structures below the gum tissue. If gingivitis (inflammation) isn’t treated and cured, the body will begin to attack the bones, not just the gums.

Periodontal disease is an uphill battle. It takes more frequent routine cleanings and monitoring to maintain once it’s been treated. Health conditions such as diabetes can also affect periodontal disease, which means that proper monitoring by both a medical doctor and dentist is imperative.

To put it simply, gingivitis is reversible, periodontal disease is not. Many factors can play a role in both conditions. Pay close attention to your screening and ask questions to be informed! At Family Dentist Tree, each dentist and hygienist are professionally trained to screen and answer any questions you may have regarding gum disease. We look forward to seeing you at your next dental checkup!