Gums and chompers not doing so hot? It could be periodontitis, aka gum disease or periodontal disease.

But don’t stress just yet — periodontitis is totally treatable in its early stages. Before things get really bad, be extra diligent about oral hygiene. That means scheduling regular dental cleanings, brushing your teeth on the reg, and flossing like a champ.

Here are the deets on periodontitis and fighting dental enemy No. 1.

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Juan Moyano/Stocksy United

While you may think there’s no way periodontitis is the source of your dental probs, it’s actually super common. In the United States, about 42 percent of adults over 30 have some type of periodontitis (whether mild, moderate, or severe).

These warning signs could indicate periodontitis:

  • Your gums bleed when you brush or floss.
  • Your breath, well, kinda stinks.
  • You have a constant bad taste in your mouth.
  • Your gums are red, swollen, or tender.
  • It hurts when you chew certain foods.
  • Your teeth feel loose or sensitive (or they’re falling out).
  • Your gums are receding.
  • Your bite doesn’t feel quite right anymore.

Both are types of gum disease, but periodontitis is way more severe.

Gingivitis is early inflammation of the gums, while periodontitis happens when gingivitis goes unchecked and leads to infection.

Here are the main differences:

Gingivitis Periodontitis
Teethsensitive teethteeth becoming loose or falling out
Gumsred, inflamed gumsgum and bone receding from teeth
Other symptomsbleeding when brushing or flossingbleeding and infected pockets forming below gumline
Treatmenttreatable with good oral habitsrequires pro dental treatment, but the effects aren’t always reversible

Here’s what to know about each stage of the disease.

Inflammation (gingivitis)

First comes gingivitis, then comes periodontitis. You’ll most likely notice:

  • bleeding gums when you brush or floss
  • inflamed gums
  • tooth discoloration from plaque

Early periodontal disease

In the early stage of periodontal disease, you might notice:

  • bleeding when brushing or flossing
  • gum recession
  • pocket formation in the gums
  • heavy plaque buildup
  • bone erosion

Moderate periodontal disease

By this stage, you’ll likely experience more bleeding and pain in your teeth and recessed gums. You might also notice:

  • loosening bones and teeth
  • increased inflammation and sensitivity

Advanced periodontal disease

When your teeth’s precious connective tissue keeps deteriorating, you’ve got a serious problem on your hands (and in your mouth). Advanced periodontal disease spares nothing: Your gums, bones, and surrounding tissue all begin to erode.

You might also experience:

  • severe pain when eating
  • very bad breath
  • foul taste in your mouth
  • teeth loosening or falling out

Periodontitis is usually caused by poor oral hygiene.

Like Weird Al Yankovic sang in ’99, “They’re all over me, they’re inside of me… I’m covered with… microscopic bacteria.” Including in your mouth!

Most of these bacteria are completely harmless. But if you don’t clean your teeth every day, the bacteria grow and multiply.

Here’s what happens, step by step:

  1. The bacteria in your mouth grow and multiply, forming plaque.
  2. If you don’t remove the plaque by brushing, the bacteria create mineral deposits. Basically, the plaque hardens into tartar, which is a lot tougher to remove. To make matters worse, it encourages more bacterial growth at the tooth’s root.
  3. Your trusty bod tries to save the day by fighting off the bacteria, which only causes your gums to flare up and become irritated.
  4. The attachment of the gum to the tooth root weakens and may form a pocket or gap. Naturally, those annoying bacteria love to hang out in there.
  5. These bacteria basically throw ragers in these pockets, multiplying and releasing harmful toxins that can mess up your gums, teeth, and supporting bone structures.

Periodontitis is treatable when you tackle it as early as possible. Aside from A+ oral hygiene, here’s what it entails.

Scrub a dub-dub: Regular dental cleanings

Getting a dental cleaning at least once a year is key to gum disease prevention. If you’ve already been diagnosed, you should head to the dental office at least twice a year.

When you schedule a dental cleaning, your dentist will:

  • remove built-up plaque and tartar from your teeth and teeth roots
  • clean and polish your teeth
  • if necessary, deep-clean gum pockets to encourage healing
  • treat your teeth with fluoride to strengthen them

They’ll also give you tips and tricks for limiting the “bad” bacteria in your mouth. For instance, they might ask you about your flossing habits or recommend using a water flosser.

Poppin’ pills: Medication options

In more severe cases, your doctor might prescribe antibiotics or treat you with other medications, including:

  • prescription antimicrobial mouthwash (chlorhexidine)
  • antiseptic chip (a tiny piece of gelatin that also contains chlorhexidine)
  • antibiotic gels, pills, or microspheres
  • enzyme suppressant (a dose of doxycycline that combats destructive enzymes)

More serious steps: Surgery

In its most advanced stages, periodontitis might require surgical intervention. Options include:

  • Flap surgery. If meds and deep cleaning don’t work, the dentist may need to fight dental pocket inflammation with flap surgery. The method involves lifting back your gums to remove the tartar from your tooth roots and clean the bone. Afterward, the gums are sutured back in place to prevent future problems.
  • Bone and tissue grafts. Serious gum and bone recession may require grafting work. The surgeon can place natural or synthetic bone in affected areas, which can also help promote future bone growth. Soft tissue grafting involves adding synthetic tissue or gum tissue from elsewhere in your mouth to receding areas.

Good oral hygiene can go a long way in preventing, controlling, and reversing gum disease. Here’s what to do:

  • Brush your teeth 2x a day. Don’t miss *any* surfaces, even those back molars! And no, your year-old, frayed toothbrush won’t cut it. Replace your toothbrush as soon as the bristles get a little busted.
  • Use floss or an interdental device every day. According to a 2019 study, only 32 percent of Americans floss every day, so it kinda makes sense that about half the population also develops gum disease. Don’t listen to that one media story that got everyone shook in 2016 — according to the American Dental Association (ADA), flossing is legit.
  • Use an antibacterial mouthwash. This can help reduce bacteria growth and inflammation.

If you’ve noticed a little bleeding when brushing or other oral probs, head to a dentist for a complete assessment. During your visit, the dentist will examine the state of your gums, teeth, and surrounding bones to determine what’s up.

Your dentist will prob use a periodontal probe to examine your gums. If your teeth are healthy, the probe won’t be able to slide too far past the gumline. X-rays are usually needed to check underneath your gums and see how your bone is looking.

Remember, when it comes to periodontitis, prevention is the best medicine. Brush and floss those teeth, bb. Your smile will thank you!