Periodontitis (gum disease)

Gum disease affects most people at some time during their life. It is usually caused by a build-up of plaque on teeth. There are two main stages of gum disease:

  • gingivitis
  • periodontitis


Gingivitis is early gum disease and occurs when dental plaque builds up on teeth, particularly where the gum joins the tooth.

Signs of gingivitis

  • bleeding (particularly when brushing)
  • redness
  • swelling of the gum


Periodontitis is an advanced gum disease that may occur if gingivitis is not treated. The gum margin, the part of the gum that seals to the tooth, is weakened and spaces form between the tooth and the gum. These spaces are called ‘periodontal pockets.’ Bacteria become trapped in these pockets causing further inflammation (redness and swelling).

Periodontitis can affect the covering of the tooth root (cementum), the bone and the fibres that connect the cementum to the bone (periodontal ligament). As the disease progresses and bone is lost, larger spaces begin to form between the tooth and the gum.

Signs of periodontitis

  • bleeding
  • swelling
  • receding gums with bad breath
  • a bad taste in the mouth
  • loose teeth.

Cleaning teeth can help prevent gum disease

While it is tempting to avoid cleaning your gums when they are inflamed and bleeding, brushing will help improve the situation.

Seek dental care

Like many conditions, early intervention to treat gum diseases can ensure the longevity of your teeth. If you have swollen or bleeding gums or your teeth feel loose, see your dentist or oral health professional.

The dentist or oral health professional will examine your gums with a probe to measure the spaces between the tooth and gum. This will determine the health of your gums and supporting structures. If necessary, the dentist or oral health professional will instruct you in tooth cleaning techniques or may clean your teeth professionally to remove any plaque and calculus (hardened plaque).

Where to get help

Things to remember

  • Gum disease affects most people at some stage in their life.
  • One of the common signs of gum disease is bleeding gums.
  • The two stages of gum disease are gingivitis and periodontitis.
  • Careful cleaning can help prevent gum disease.
  • Getting treatment early can help save teeth that are at risk from gum disease and other conditions – see your dentist or oral health professional if you have swollen or bleeding gums or loose teeth

7 tips to maintain good oral health

  1. Eat a healthy and balanced diet of fresh fruit and vegetables, lean meat, fish and wholegrains.
  2. Avoid saturated fats in your diet.
  3. Limit sugary foods and drinks to mealtimes.
  4. Brush your teeth and gums twice a day with a fluoridated toothpaste.
  5. Visit a dentist or other oral health professional regularly.
  6. Drink plenty of fluoridated tap water.
  7. Avoid smoking.