Gum disease

Gum disease (periodontal disease), is an inflammatory disease caused by a build up of plaque on teeth. The bacteria in dental plaque affect the gums and other tissues that support the teeth. There are 2 types of gum disease — gingivitis and periodontitis.


Gingivitis is a mild form of gum disease. It often goes unnoticed because it is not painful. 

Symptoms of gingivitis

Because it is not painful, gingivitis often goes unnoticed. Look out for these warning signs:

  • red, swollen, puffy or tender gums
  • bright or dark red gums, or gums that are darker than usual
  • bleeding while brushing or flossing
  • bad breath.

Causes of gingivitis

The most common cause of gingivitis is not looking after your teeth properly. This causes plaque to form on your teeth. The plaque then turns into tartar. If plaque and tartar remain on your teeth, they lead to gingivitis.

Diagnosing gingivitis

If you notice any signs of gingivitis, you should visit you dentist as soon as possible. They will:

  • look at your dental history
  • check your medical history for any conditions that may be a cause for your symptoms
  • look at your teeth, gums, mouth and tongue
  • take dental x-rays. 

Your dentist also checks for signs of gum disease during regular dental exams. 

Treating gingivitis

Gingivitis does not cause tooth loss, but if left untreated it can develop into periodontitis. To stop this happening your dentist will:

  • do professional dental cleaning
  • do any dental repairs, such as fix poor fittings or other repairs that may irritate your gums 
  • provide ongoing care 
  • give advice for you to treat gingivitis at home.

It can take anywhere from days to weeks to reverse gingivitis, depending on how bad it is.

Preventing gingivitis

 To prevent gingivitis:

  • brush your teeth twice a day
  • floss at least once a day 
  • go to the dentist regularly 
  • reduce how much sugar you eat or drink.


Periodontitis affects the tissue around the roots of your teeth.If it is left untreated it can destroy the fibres and bones that hold your tooth in place. 

Symptoms of periodontitis

If you have developed periodontitis, you may also have:

  • receding gums, or gums that pull away from teeth
  • loose teeth
  • pus between the gum and tooth
  • a change in the way teeth fit together when biting.

In the advanced stages of periodontitis, the affected tooth:

  • can become loose and fall out
  • may have to be removed.

Cause of periodontitis

Periodontitis is the destructive form of gum disease. It is caused by untreated gingivitis.

Diagnosing periodontitis

To diagnose periodontitis, your dentist will:

  • look at your medical history 
  • look at your mouth for signs of plaque, tartar and to check if your gums bleed easily 
  • measure how deep the pockets are between your teeth and gums 
  • take dental x-rays to check for bone loss.

Treating periodontitis

Treatment can be done by either a dentist, or a periodontist (a dentist who specialises in gum disease). A dental hygienist or oral health therapist may also be involved in your treatment plan. 

Depending on how severe or advanced your periodontitis is, you may need surgical treatment. 

Your dentist will talk to you about the treatment options that are best for you. 

Preventing periodontitis

To prevent periodontitis:

  • brush your teeth twice a day
  • floss every day
  • use a mouth rinse to reduce plaque between your teeth 
  • get regular, professional dental cleanings 
  • do not smoke.