Gingivitis refers to the inflammation of gums and is commonly known by its major symptom, bleeding gums. It is one of the common periodontal diseases – diseases which affect bones and gums that hold the teeth in place. About 30% of Americans may be genetically predisposed to periodontal disease, as per the reports of the American Association of Periodontology. Gingivitis marks the onset of gum and bone disease (periodontitis).The bacteria in the mouth along with mucus and food debris form a thin coating called plaque. Poor oral hygiene causes plaque build-up and leads to tartar formation at the teeth base. This causes infection and incites inflammation of the gums.
- Red-purple, swollen and tender gums
- Bleeding while brushing and flossing
- Receding gums that make the teeth appear elongated
- Foul odor in the mouth and breath
- Mouth sores and pus formation
The infection and inflammation can spread to the bones and tooth sockets, loosening the teeth and eventually leading to loss of teeth. Immediate attention can prevent the condition from complicating into periodontitis. According to CDC, there may be potential links between chronic gingivitis and stroke as well as heart diseases.
The main cause of gingivitis is lack of proper and regular dental hygiene It is as simple as not brushing the teeth daily, flossing and using an antibacterial mouth wash at least once, if not twice, in a day. Misaligned teeth with gaps in between cause food particles to get trapped in places that are not reachable while brushing or flossing. Unclean dental appliances like dentures, braces or bridges can provide a surface for the bacteria to grow. All these factors favor plaque formation and thereby, gingivitis.
Hormonal changes during pregnancy, puberty or steroidal therapy may increase the sensitivity of the gums. Higher levels of progesterone before periods can be a cause of gingivitis in some women. Conditions like diabetes, HIV infection, AIDS, leukemia and Wegener’s granulomatosis and Addison’s disease reduce the ability of the immune system to fight infections and increase susceptibility to gingivitis.
The flow of saliva keeps the teeth and gums clean. Medications used to treat seizures, organ transplant rejection and certain high blood pressure drugs (anti-hypertensives) can contribute to the development of gingivitis by reducing the flow of saliva. Smoking and tobacco use slow down the natural healing process of gums.
Gingivitis is diagnosed by an evaluation of teeth, gums and tongue. X-ray images are also obtained to determine the extent of damage to the teeth and the internal structures that support them. The treatment and subsequent prevention of gingivitis involves:
- Professional cleaning of the teeth for removal of plaque and tartar.
- Prescription of anti-bacterial mouth rinses. Rinsing the mouth with warm salt water is also helpful.
- Instructions for proper brushing and flossing.
- Fixing problems with dental restorations, if applicable.
- Treatment of other ailments, if they are the underlying cause.
- Follow-up visits to the dentist.
- Quitting smoking.
- Stress-free lifestyle and well balanced diet that boosts the body’s natural defense mechanisms.
With these practices, the gums should restored back to a healthy condition within a few weeks without permanent complications. However, the patient needs to be made aware of the condition and should be attentive especially with regards to their daily dental hygiene practices.