At your dental appointments, you’ve probably been told to watch out for gingivitis. What does that mean, what are the warning signs, and how can it be treated? If you have been diagnosed with gingivitis, this means that you have an inflammation of the gums, also called gingiva. It will most commonly occur because films of bacteria called plaque have accumulated on the teeth. This is called plaque-induced gingivitis.
Gingivitis is a non-destructive type of periodontal disease, but if left untreated, it can progress into periodontitis. This is more serious, painful, and can eventually lead to the loss of your teeth. It’s important to be aware of the warning signs of gingivitis and know how to combat it before it becomes a real problem.
Symptoms and Signs of Gingivitis
First you should know the difference between a symptom and a sign. A symptom is something the patient feels and describes, while a sign is something everyone including a nurse or doctor can see.
Usual signs and symptoms for gingivitis are:
- Gums are bright red or purple.
- Gums are tender and sometimes painful to the touch.
- Bad breath (also called halitosis).
- Inflamed or swollen gums.
- Receding gums.
- Soft gums.
In mild cases of gingivitis, the patient may not even notice that anything is wrong, because the symptoms are so mild. Any symptom needs to be taken seriously and should be looked at by your dentist.
What are the Causes of Gingivitis?
Accumulation of Plaque or Tartar
Having an accumulation of bacterial plaque between and around the teeth is the most common cause for gingivitis. This triggers an immune response, which can eventually lead to the destruction of gingival tissue and eventually lead to further complications including loss of teeth.
Plaque is a biofilm that accumulates naturally on your teeth. There are some experts that say this colonization of bacteria can help protect the mouth from harmful microorganisms. On the other hand, dental plaque can also cause tooth decay and periodontal problems like gingivitis. When the plaque is not removed correctly, it can cause an accumulation of calculus (not the math kind) at the base of the teeth near the gums, creating a yellowish color. This is harder to remove, and can only be removed properly by a professional.
Gingivitis can also have other causes as well:
Hormones. Changes in hormones occurring during puberty or pregnancy can cause the gingiva to become more sensitive and raise the risk of inflammation.
Disease. Some diseases such as cancer or HIV are linked to a higher risk of developing gingivitis.
Smoking. Regular smokers more commonly develop gingivitis compared to non-smokers.
Family history. Experts have found that people whose parents have had gingivitis have a higher risk of developing it themselves.
Complications from Gingivitis
In most cases of diagnosed gingivitis, there are no complications if it is treated and the patient follows the dentist's instructions. If the condition is left untreated, however, the gum disease can spread and affect deeper tissues as well as the teeth and bones.
Some possible complications of gingivitis are:
- Abscess (buildup of pus) in the gingiva or jaw bone.
- Infection in the gingiva or jaw bone.
- Periodontitis that can lead to tooth loss.
- Recurrent gingivitis.
- Trench mouth (an ulceration of the gums that is caused by bacterial infection).
Some studies have linked gum diseases to other issues such as cardiovascular diseases like heart attack or stroke. Others have shown an association with a higher lung disease risk. Find more information on diseases all over the body that can be caused by tooth decay here.
Treatment Options for Gingivitis
If you go to the dentist early on and your treatment for gingivitis is quick and proper, the symptoms of gingivitis can be successfully reversed. The treatment process usually involves care by a dentist and follow-up procedures carried out by the patient at home.
The care you receive from the dentist can include:
- Plaque and tartar removal (also known as scaling).
- Explanation of good oral hygiene and how to effectively brush your teeth.
- Follow-up visits with further cleaning if necessary.
- Fixing your teeth so that oral hygiene can be done more effectively.
Care you need to do at home can include:
- Brushing your teeth at least twice a day. Keep in mind that electric toothbrushes can be more effective at getting a good clean on your teeth.
- Flossing your teeth at least once a day.
- Regularly rinsing your mouth with an antiseptic mouthwash. Your dentist can recommend a good one.
With good dental hygiene and routine visits to your dentist, you should be able to steer clear of gingivitis. Finding the time to visit the dentist is just as important as regularly visiting your doctor. With early detection of any gum disease, it can save you time, money, and a lot of pain later.