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You may have heard about gum disease, but do you know the difference between gingivitis and other types of complications that can affect your mouth, such as periodontitis?

Gingivitis is an inflammation of the gums. It is usually caused by the presence of plaque, food debris and bacteria left on the teeth and gums when someone doesn't brush and floss each day, but may also be the result of hormonal changes (for example, during pregnancy), smoking, illness or certain medications. The gums may be puffy and red and may bleed during toothbrushing. At this stage, the damage is reversible. If left untreated, it will progress into periodontitis.

Periodontitis is where the gums and bone begin to recede from the roots of the teeth. The resulting periodontal pockets collect even more plaque, food debris and bacteria. These bacteria and our own immune systems produce chemicals that breakdown the bone and the ligaments that support the tooth roots. When this happens, the teeth become loose and may drift. Eventually, tooth loss results if the periodontitis is not treated. Periodontitis is the leading cause of tooth loss in adults.

Periodontal disease is usually painless, making it difficult for patients to recognize it when it starts. However, one may notice bad breath or bleeding gums when gingivitis starts and may see exposed root surfaces or see the shifting of teeth if periodontitis has begun.

Many patients are not aware that periodontal maintenance is the best way to keep gum disease from returning. Periodontal maintenance is regularly performed at certain intervals after procedures such as scaling and root planing. Periodontal maintenance includes the removal of plaque and tartar, scaling and tooth planing and polishing. Your dentist will determine the frequency the periodontal maintenance is needed.

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