Gingivitis is the initial stage of gum disease that is caused by plaque builds up. If the plaque is not removed by a daily brushing and flossing it produces toxins that can irritate the gum tissue. Damage can be reversed in the early stages of gum disease. If gingivitis is left untreated it can become Periodontitis and cause permanent damage to your teeth and jaw.
When your gums become red, swollen, and tender gums that may bleed when you brush. If your teeth have an elongated appearance or have receded is another sign of gum disease. Gum disease can cause pockets between the teeth and gums where plaque and food collect. Recurring bad breath or a bad taste is also a small sign that the disease can be forming.
To prevent Gingivitis good oral hygiene is essential. Making sure to schedule a professional cleaning once a year because once plaque has hardened and built up or become tarter only a dental hygienist can remove it. You can prevent gingivitis by following these steps:
- Brushing and flossing to remove plaque
- Eating right
- Avoid cigarettes and other forms of tobacco
What are the signs and symptoms of gingivitis?
A symptom is something the patient feels and describes, such as painful gums, while a sign is something everybody, including the doctor or nurse can see, such as swelling.
In mild cases of gingivitis there may be no discomfort or noticeable symptoms.
Signs and symptoms of gingivitis may include:
- Gums are bright red or purple
- Gums are tender, and sometimes painful to the touch
- Gums bleed easily when brushing teeth or flossing
- Halitosis (bad breath)
- Inflammation (swollen gums)
- Receding gums
- Soft gums
What are the causes of gingivitis?
The accumulation of plaque and tartar
The most common cause of gingivitis is the accumulation of bacterial plaque between and around the teeth, which triggers an immune response, which in turn can eventually lead to the destruction of gingival tissue, and eventually further complications, including the loss of teeth.
Dental plaque is a biofilm that accumulates naturally on the teeth. It is usually formed by colonizing bacteria that are trying to stick to the smooth surface of a tooth. Some experts say that they might help protect the mouth from the colonization of harmful microorganisms. However, dental plaque can also cause tooth decay, and periodontal problems such as gingivitis and chronic periodontitis.
When plaque is not removed adequately, it causes an accumulation of calculus (tartar – it has a yellow color) at the base of the teeth, near the gums. Calculus is harder to remove, and can only be removed professionally.
Plaque and tartar eventually irritate the gums.
Gingivitis may also have other causes, including:
- Changes in hormones – which may occur during puberty, menopause, the menstrual cycle and pregnancy. The gingiva may become more sensitive, raising the risk of inflammation.
- Some diseases – such as cancer, diabetes, and HIV are linked to a higher risk of developing gingivitis.
- Drugs – oral health may be affected by some medications, especially if saliva flow is reduced. Dilantin (anticonvulsant), and some anti-angina medications may also cause abnormal growth of gum tissue.
- Smoking – regular smokers more commonly develop gingivitis compared to non-smokers.
- Family history – experts say that people whose parent(s) has/had gingivitis, have a higher risk of developing it themselves.
A dentist or oral hygienist checks for gingivitis symptoms, such as plaque and tartar in the oral cavity.
Checking for signs of periodontitis may also be recommended; this may be done by X-ray or periodontal probing.
What are the treatment options for gingivitis?
If the patient is diagnosed early on, and treatment is prompt and proper, gingivitis can be successfully reversed.
Treatment involves care by a dental professional, and follow-up procedures carried out by the patient at home.
Gingivitis care with a dental professional:
- Plaque and tartar are removed. This is known as scaling. Some patients may find scaling uncomfortable, especially if tartar build-up is extensive, or the gums are very sensitive.
- The dental professional explains to the patient the importance of oral hygiene, and how to effectively brush his/her teeth, as well as flossing
- Periodically following-up on the patient, with further cleaning if necessary
- Fixing teeth so that oral hygiene can be done effectively. Some dental problems, such as crooked teeth, badly fitted crowns or bridges, may make it harder to properly remove plaque and tartar (they may also irritate the gums).
What the patient can do at home:
- Brush your teeth at least twice a day
- Bear in mind that in most cases, electric toothbrushes do a better job than we can do on our own
- Floss your teeth at least once a day
- Regularly rinse your mouth with an antiseptic mouthwash. Ask your dentist to recommend one.