Gingivitis is the earliest stage of periodontal disease. It causes inflammation of the gum tissue, with symptoms that often include red, swollen gums that may bleed easily. Gingivitis is highly treatable with daily brushing and flossing at home and routine dental cleanings. A mild case may clear as quickly as just one week with proper and diligent oral hygiene practices. Without care, though, gingivitis can become periodontitis. While gingivitis affects more than 50 percent of American adults, fast forward to those who are 70 years old or older and the numbers jump -- 86 percent of American seniors suffer from moderate to advanced periodontitis [source: University of Maryland Medical Center].
Periodontitis is a bacterial infection that affects the tissues, ligaments and bones that keep our teeth in place (and in our mouth). It is a severe form of periodontal disease.
Periodontitis can be aggressive and it can be chronic. Aggressive periodontitis affects 1 to 15 percent of Americans and is most likely to be diagnosed in adults younger than age 35 [source: Demmer]. Chronic periodontitis, the more common of the types, is primarily an adult disease. Patients with untreated or advanced systemic conditions such as diabetes or HIV are also at a high risk for periodontitis.
As the infection worsens into periodontitis, the red, swollen gums of gingivitis begin to turn bright red or even purple and begin to recede. You may begin to notice the spaces between your teeth are widening as the gums pull away, and there may be pus in those spaces. As the infection deepens, tissues and bone surrounding the affected tooth begin to shrink. In severe, advanced cases, teeth may shift or become loose.
Periodontitis, like gingivitis, is treatable, but the treatments change depending on how advanced the infection becomes. While gingivitis may be treated at home, periodontitis requires professional treatment.