Gingivitis

By:    Published: February 1, 2012

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Gingivitis is a term you often hear in toothpaste commercials, but few people really know what gingivitis is and where it comes from. Fortunately, it is often easy to prevent this disease by learning more about dental hygiene and by making regular trips to the dentist’s office. Additionally, it’s helpful to know the signs and symptoms of gingivitis so that you know when it’s time to see a dentist.

Definition

Gingivitis is a mild form of periodontal disease. It occurs when the gums and other tissues supporting the teeth and tooth sockets become inflamed, infected and irritated. This causes the tissues and gums to break down. Unfortunately, gingivitis is quite common and because it starts out so mildly, many people don’t realize that they have the disease. When gingivitis becomes more serious, it can lead to more serious forms of gum disease and the decay or loss of teeth.

Symptoms

Because gingivitis is sometimes painless, many people don’t realize that there is anything wrong with their gums. Therefore, there are several symptoms of gingivitis that you should watch out for, including:

  • Swollen, puffy or soft gums
  • Receding gums
  • Dusky red-colored gums
  • Bleeding from the gums when you brush or floss (watch for a red or pink color on the floss, on the bristles or in the water in your sink)
  • Tender gums
  • Bad breath (For ways to get rid of bad breath, read 10 Quick Tips For Curing Bad Breath.)

One way to detect the symptoms of gingivitis more effectively is to know what healthy gums look like. You want your gums have a pale pink color to them. They should be firm rather than puffy or soft. Additionally, your gums should not be tender or painful to the touch. If your gums do not match this description, schedule a check-up with your dentist. The sooner gingivitis is treated, the better your chance of preventing future damage and reversing damage that has already occurred.

Causes And Risk Factors

The most common cause of gingivitis is poor oral hygiene, leading to plaque build-up. Plaque forms when the starches and sugars you consume come into contact with bacteria that is already in your mouth. Though plaque adheres quickly, it can easily be removed by brushing and flossing. When people fail to brush and floss properly, it allows plaque to build up on the teeth’s surface. If plaque is left on the teeth for two or three days, it often hardens into tartar, which is generally only able to be removed at a professional dental cleaning appointment. If tartar stays on your teeth too long, it irritates the gums and produces bacteria and toxins which infect the gums, triggering gingivitis.

While poor oral hygiene is the main cause of gingivitis, there are several factors which may increase your risk of developing this disease, including:

  • Tobacco use
  • Substance abuse
  • Poor nutrition
  • Diabetes
  • Old age
  • Use of certain medications
  • Having certain viral or fungal infections
  • Dry mouth
  • Dental restorations which do not fit properly
  • Hormonal changes (may be triggered by pregnancy, oral contraception, etc.)
  • Decreased immunity (may be caused by leukemia, HIV/AIDS, etc.)

If you fall into any of the high-risk areas for gingivitis listed above, be sure to schedule regular dentist appointments to ensure that you are not developing the disease.

Prevention

The very best thing you can do to help prevent gingivitis is to develop good oral hygiene habits. Dentists recommend brushing twice and flossing once daily because plaque can form very quickly, usually within a 24-hour period. By brushing and flossing regularly, you can help to prevent this plaque build-up in your mouth. Floss before brushing to loosen and then clean away food particles from your teeth. Don’t rush through your oral hygiene routine either – MayoClinic.com reports that a cleaning that includes brushing and flossing should take 3 to 5 minutes to complete.

(To learn more about proper flossing, read Benefits Of Flossing: Taking Care Of Your Mouth.)

In addition to brushing and flossing, you should also schedule regular appointments with a dentist for thorough cleanings and a check-up. Dentists recommend coming in for an appointment every 6 to 12 months. Those who have one or more of the risk factors described above may need to come in more often than that.

Treatment

The best way to treat gingivitis is to detect it early. This usually prevents additional damage and can sometimes reverse any damage to the gums that has already occurred. When gingivitis is diagnosed, dentists can generally treat it with a thorough cleaning and examination and by fixing any ill-fitting crowns, bridges or other dental restorations. After that, patients can continue to treat the disease at home by following a strict oral hygiene regimen that may include using an electric toothbrush, flossing daily and using an antiseptic mouth rinse. In more advanced cases, damage often cannot be reversed.

Besides cleanings and fixing dental restorations, dentists often recommend lifestyle changes to treat gingivitis. That usually involves removing yourself from one of the high-risk categories listed above, when possible. For example, a dentist may recommend that a patient stop tobacco use, control their diabetes more efficiently or eat a healthier diet.

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