What is gingivitis?
Gingivitis is the mildest form of periodontitis and the first stage of gum disease. Patients with gingivitis often exhibit gums that are inflamed or irritated, but with teeth still firmly in their sockets and no irreversible bone or tissue damage (yet).
Gingivitis may be mild, but when left untreated, it can worsen and become periodontitis. Unlike gingivitis, periodontitis can lead to permanent bone and tissue damage, and even tooth loss. To protect your oral health and gums, recognize the signs if gingivitis and understand your treatment options.
How does it form?
Gingivitis stems from plaque, a sticky substance made of sugars and starches from the food you eat. The bacteria in your mouth feed on the plaque. If you don’t brush it away within 24 hours, it can become something called tartar, a much harder substance that can further irritate your gums and requires removal by a dentist.
Plaque buildup is the primary cause of gingivitis, but there are other factors that can also contribute, including:
This happens especially during pregnancy, puberty, menopause, and menstruation. Hormonal changes can make your gums more sensitive, which makes it easier for gum disease to develop.
Diseases that interfere with the immune system, or conditions that affect your body’s blood sugar levels (like diabetes), can put you at greater risk.
If you are on any medications that affect your saliva production, you should discuss the situation with your dentist. Saliva helps to protect your teeth and gums, so if you have a constant case of “dry mouth,” you could get gingivitis.
Any kind of tobacco use—smoking, chewing, etc.—can make it much harder for gum tissue to heal itself, and can lead to more extreme oral health issues such as mouth and throat cancer. Gums and teeth weakened by tobacco use will be harder to keep clean and healthy.
If your family has a history of dental disease, you could be at higher risk for developing gum disease, too. Some oral health issues are believed to be genetically inheritable.
What are some symptoms of gingivitis?
The main symptoms of this condition are:
- Bleeding gums during and after tooth brushing
- Red, swollen, or tender gums
- Persistent bad breath or a bad taste in the mouth
- Receding gums
- Formation of deep pockets between teeth and gums
- Loose or shifting teeth
- Changes in the way teeth fit together when biting down, or in the fit of partial dentures
If you are experiencing one or more of these symptoms, make an appointment with your dentist. Gingivitis is almost always completely reversible, but if you let it go untreated, it can easily become periodontitis and lead to tooth loss.
What should I do if I have some of the symptoms?
Talk to your dentist. Again, gingivitis is usually pretty easy to take care of. By practicing good oral hygiene, you can almost always completely reverse its effects. Your dentist can help you with an oral hygiene plan to make your smile healthy again.
As gum disease progresses from gingivitis to periodontitis, the pockets deepen and more gum tissue and bone are destroyed. When this happens, your teeth are no longer anchored firmly in place and you could begin losing them. Gum disease is the leading cause of tooth loss in adults. If you have periodontitis, treatment isn’t as simple as brushing your teeth. Often, oral surgery and dental implants are required.
How can I prevent gum disease?
Start with a thorough and regular dental hygiene regimen to control plaque. By brushing twice a day, flossing daily, and maintaining a balanced, healthy diet, you can help prevent buildup. You should also consider using antibacterial rinses to help keep your mouth clean.
And as always, regular checkups are a must. Sometimes gum disease can form without showing any obvious symptoms. For example, if it forms in your very back molars, it can be difficult for you to know it’s there. Only a dentist can accurately diagnose gum disease and determine how far it’s progressed.
If you have been experiencing any symptoms of gingivitis, or it’s simply been awhile since your last checkup, contact our office today. We’ll help you maintain or restore a strong and healthy smile.