When gingivitis becomes a deep, extensive infection of the tooth roots and bone bed in the jaw, what you have is periodontal disease. This serious, painful condition causes powerful bad breath and can lead to tooth loss and an increased risk of cardiovascular disease.
People have known about gingivitis for centuries, but what about periodontal disease? Were they aware of it? You bet. Even as early as the 1700s, scientists were looking at the teeth of living people and their deceased counterparts, and ruminating over what was making their teeth rot...
Skulls, pus and microscopes
It's hard to avoid being gross when talking about periodontitis, but that's because it's a gross disease. In a mouth infected with periodontal disease, the gums gradually pull away from the teeth, the roots exude pus, the breath smells terrible and, eventually, the teeth fall out one by one.
Obviously, humans have never been blind to this process. But it wasn't until the 1700s that scientists began studying this disease in earnest. According to the 1899 book Interstitial Gingivitis: or So-Called Pyorrhoea Alveolaris, written by Eugene Talbot, at that time physicians had begun examining ancient human skulls and finding traces of dental disease.
Talbot, a professor at Northwestern University, said that these skulls - from ancient Switzerland, Greece, Acadia and Constantinople - showed signs of profound decay of the tooth roots.
As early as 1740, French scientists had identified this condition with the gingivitis-like disease found in living people, one that rotted teeth. However, no one knew what caused it. It wasn't until microscopes became more reliable that researchers realized it was bacteria that was doing our teeth in.
Periotherapy does the trick today
Since that time, great strides have been made in the prevention and treatment of periodontal disease. Today, most dentists recommend using a specialty periotherapy rinse to clean between the tooth and gums.
As a bonus, these products tend to use oxidizing ingredients to neutralize the smell of bad breath.