Understanding Periodontitis

Everything You Need to Know About Advanced Gum Disease

Understanding what periodontitis is may not seem important to you now, but did you know that once gingivitis progresses into periodontitis this advanced form of gum disease becomes irreversible?

Periodontitis is inflammation of the gums, usually caused by an infection, that damages the tissue and bones that support the teeth.

Dentist working on a patient's teeth
Cultura / jackSTAR / Getty Images

Is It Periodontitis?

In a nutshell, periodontitis occurs when gingivitis is left untreated. Since gingivitis and periodontitis share similar symptoms, early diagnosis is key to preventing progression. Only your dentist is able to confirm what problem you have.

What Causes Periodontitis?

Gum disease generally develops because of improper brushing and flossing habits, although underlying medical conditions may have a correlation to greater incidence. The bacteria that are found in the mouth as a result of these poor habits begin to affect the surrounding bone and tissues below the gumline.

As plaque and bacteria build up and begin to produce toxins, your body begins a process known as a chronic inflammatory response. Put simply, the body begins to break down the gum tissue and supporting bone. The gingival sulcus becomes increasingly deeper, forming a periodontal pocket that continues to trap plaque, bacteria and food debris. As periodontitis continues to manifest, the patient is often unaware of the damage that is occurring, because symptoms often remain mild.

The bone loss and destruction of the firmly attached gum tissues is permanent.

Periodontitis comes in many forms, all with specific factors contributing to its progression:

  • Aggressive Periodontitis: This affects normally healthy people, developing rapidly and causing bone loss and destruction to the attached gingiva.
  • Chronic Periodontitis - Perhaps the most common form of periodontitis, it mainly occurs in adults, although anyone (regardless of age) may develop it. Inflammation of the gingiva, bone loss, and increased gingival recession may progress slower than with other forms of periodontitis.
  • Periodontitis Associated With Systemic Diseases: Systemic diseases, such as heart disease, diabetes, and certain forms of arthritis, may have a correlation with periodontitis. Research suggests the connection between periodontitis and certain diseases may be due to chronic inflammatory response, as this is common with many systemic conditions. Other theories suggest microorganisms in the mouth are partially to blame.
  • Necrotizing Periodontal Disease: Necrosis means the death of the gum tissue, connective tissue, and bone that surround the teeth; this causes lesions in the mouth. Individuals with conditions and/or diseases such as HIV/AIDS, immunodeficiency disorders, and malnutrition often display this form of periodontitis.

Patients with periodontitis are often referred by their general dentist to a periodontist. Periodontists specialize in treating advanced gum disease and work together with your general dentist to care for oral health by halting the progression of periodontitis and subsequently treating the various forms of gum disease.

Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.

By Shawn Watson
Shawn Watson is an orthodontic dental assistant and writer with over 10 years of experience working in the field of dentistry.