Stage 1: Plaque

Plaque is a soft, colorless, and sticky film that builds up on our teeth and contains millions of bacteria. The bacteria found in plaque will eventually cause tooth decay (cavities) and gum disease if they are not removed regularly through brushing and flossing.

The food we eat contains sugars which bacteria will use to produce acids, which will wear away the enamel on our teeth. Over time, these acids will cause the enamel to break down which will cause a cavity on the tooth surface exposing the sensitive nerves inside.

Stage 2: Tartar

If plaque is left on our teeth long enough, it will eventually harden into tartar, also known as dental calculus. Tartar collects above and below the gum line and is rough and porous, while containing the same bacteria found in plaque.

Tartar entrenches the bacteria in our teeth, making it harder to brush away. As it is harder than plaque, it is more difficult to remove through daily brushing. A visit to the dentist is needed to remove tartar.

Stage 3: Gingivitis

Tartar if left untreated will cause the gum tissues to become red and swollen. This results in bleeding during the brushing of teeth. At this stage, plaque has become tartar, which has now become gingivitis.

Gingivitis is an inflammation of the gums, while the teeth are still firmly attached to the bone. If gingivitis does not progress to periodontitis, the damage is still reversible at this stage. Note that while plaque is the primary cause of gum disease, other factors such as hormonal changes, illnesses, smoking and genetics may play a part as well.

Periodontal disease such as gingivitis is linked to other health complications such as stroke or heart disease according to various health studies.

Stage 4: Periodontitis

If left untreated, gingivitis can develop into periodontitis. Periodontitis is a more severe form of gum disease. The signs of this is when bacterial infection causes the gums and the bone supporting the teeth to break down. At this stage the gums may begin to recede, pulling back from the teeth. In the most severe cases, the bone supporting the teeth is destroyed and can lead to tooth loss.

Both periodontal disease and gingivitis are not normally painful and both tend to progress in a slow fashion. Although there are little to no symptoms in the early stages, catching it in time will help treat gum disease. Do not wait until it is too late, visit your dentist regularly!