Gingivitis is, in short, inflammation of the gums. It is common and, fortunately, a mild form of gum disease (periodontal disease) that causes your gums to be red and swollen around the base of your teeth. Gingivitis, if not treated, can turn into a serious disease called periodontitis. This disease causes infection that destroys the soft tissues that support the teeth. In some cases, this includes the periodontal ligaments and bone.
Causes of Gingivitis
Gingivitis is caused by the short-term effects of plaque buildup on your teeth. Plaque is made of bacteria, food residue, and saliva that builds up on the exposed parts of the teeth. If the plaque is not removed by daily brushing and regular visits to the dentist, it turns into hardened deposits called tartar. This becomes stuck at the base of your tooth along the gum line. Tartar irritates the gums, causing them to become inflamed and irritated. The bacteria and toxins tartar produces causes the gums to become red, swollen, and sore.
The most common cause of gingivitis is poor oral hygiene. Other factors that contribute to a higher risk of gingivitis are:
Diseases: Cancer, diabetes, and HIV are linked to a higher risk of gingivitis.
Hormonal Changes: Changes in hormones, such as puberty, menopause, and pregnancy, can cause your gums to become more sensitive, increasing the risk of inflammation.
Smoking: Regular smokers are at a higher risk of gingivitis and gum disease, compared to non-smokers.
Diet: A poor diet and Vitamin C deficiency raises the risk for gum disease.
Genetics: Family history increases the risk of gingivitis. If your parents had gum disease, there is a greater chance that you will also develop the disease. This is thought to be related to the type of bacteria we acquire early on in life.
Old Age: The risk of gingivitis increases as you get older.
Misaligned Teeth: Teeth or dental restorations such as dentures, bridgework, and braces that are ill-fitting can make teeth difficult to clean.
Medication: Certain drugs and calcium channel blockers used for high blood pressure or epileptic seizures can affect the gums, making your mouth more susceptible to gingivitis.
Maintaining proper oral health habits can help prevent, and in early cases, reverse, gingivitis. This means brushing at least twice a day, flossing daily, and getting regular check ups with your dentist.
Signs & Symptoms of Gingivitis
Symptoms of gingivitis include:
- Swollen, inflamed gums
- Bright red or purple gums
- Bleeding gums when brushing or flossing
- Bad breath (halitosis)
In mild cases, there may not be any noticeable symptoms.
Risks and Complications
If gingivitis goes untreated, it can progress into serious gum disease that spreads to the tooth’s soft tissue and bone. This can lead to tooth loss.
Chronic gingivitis has been associated with systemic diseases, such as respiratory diseases, diabetes, and rheumatoid arthritis. Research suggests that the bacteria responsible for periodontitis enters your bloodstream through gum tissue. The bacteria then affects your heart, lungs, and other parts of the body. It has not been confirmed, but research is ongoing.
Another complication of gingivitis, if left untreated, is trench mouth. Also known as necrotizing ulcerative gingivitis (NUG), it causes painful, infected gums and ulcerations. Trench mouth is rare in developed societies, and adversely, it is more likely in countries that have poor living conditions and nutrition.
Professional Treatment for Gingivitis
The goal of oral treatments is to reduce swelling remove the tartar and plaque buildup. Prompt treatment can reverse the effects of gingivitis and prevents it from turning into a more serious mouth condition.
Professional care includes a dental cleaning, restoration (if needed), and ongoing care for preventative measures.
Your initial cleaning will include the removal of all plaque, tartar, and bacterial products. This procedure is called scaling and root planing. Scaling removes tartar from the surface of your teeth and along the gum line. Root planning removes bacteria that is a result of inflammation and discourages further buildup. This can be performed using a laser or ultrasonic device.
In some cases, your dentist may recommend fixing dental restorations, if they are the cause of your gum disease. Ill-fitting crowns, bridges, or even braces make cleaning your teeth difficult to clean on a daily basis, leading to an increase of plaque and tartar buildup.
Even after the gingivitis clears up, it is important to continue good oral hygiene. Your dentist will help you plan an effective at-home care program and schedule regular appointments for thorough teeth cleanings.