Gingivitis: Get the Facts
Gingivitis is a term you hear at the dental office and on toothpaste commercials, but do you really know what it means? This post will answer your questions about gingivitis. By knowing what it is, what causes it, and what you can do about it, you have all the information you need to stop gingivitis in its tracks!
What is Gingivitis?
Gingivitis literally means inflammation of the gums. When you see the suffix –itis on any word, that means inflammation. The root word gingiva means gums. The term gingivitis is, therefore, pretty generic. There are many different types of gingivitis, and several different causes.
Gingivitis is characterized by red, swollen gums. Often these gums will bleed with brushing or flossing. Sometimes gingivitis causes pain or tenderness in the gums, but most people have no pain. You cannot always count on pain to tell you when something is wrong in your mouth. If you have an area of gum tissue that looks bright red and puffy, you have gingivitis.
Gingivitis can affect one small area of the gums (localized), or it can spread over all of your teeth (generalized).
What Causes Gingivitis?
There are multiple contributing factors to gingivitis, but the primary cause is always the same: PLAQUE. The toxins released by the bacteria in plaque buildup create an inflammatory response by your body’s immune system. This inflammatory response brings an influx of blood vessels and immune (fighting) cells, which is why gingivitis makes your gums bleed so easily.
While plaque buildup is the primary cause, there are other factors that contribute to the formation of gingivitis.
- Poor oral hygiene
Obviously, this factor is directly related to the accumulation of plaque. If you do not properly clean the plaque off of your teeth on a daily basis, it quickly accumulates.
Plaque that stays on the teeth and gums for more than 24 hours begins to mineralize, or harden, into tartar, which we also call calculus. Plaque is soft, and you can remove it easily with a toothbrush and floss. Tartar, or calculus, is very hard and adheres to tooth structure. The only way to remove tartar buildup is by having a professional teeth cleaning with your dental hygienist. Tartar/calculus accumulation causes the same inflammatory response, so it also causes gingivitis.
Large surges in hormones increase the inflammatory response in your gums. This is why people who are going through puberty, pregnancy and menopause are much more likely to have gingivitis.
These hormone surges produce gums that are very sensitive to any plaque buildup, so keeping your teeth as clean as possible is essential to fighting gingivitis. Many of our pregnant patients need to have professional teeth cleanings every three months instead of every six months.
It is important to understand that any large hormone swings lead to an increased risk for gingivitis. Watch your children going through puberty, and give them help cleaning their teeth. Pay close attention to your own gums if you are going through a pregnancy or menopause. Call us at the first sign of gingivitis so we can nip it in the bud!
- Mouth breathing
One of the more unusual or unexplained factors in the occurrence of gingivitis is mouth breathing. There is a phenomenon in which the gums around the front teeth become bright red and inflamed, and it is all due to constant mouth breathing.
People who suffer from chronic nasal obstruction or are unable to close their lips due to a bite problem are at a high risk for this type of gingivitis. The cure to this problem is to address the cause of the mouth breathing. Often, if we suspect nasal problems leading to mouth breathing, we will refer you to an ENT physician for evaluation and treatment. If a bite problem is the concern, we may refer you to see an orthodontist to treat misalignment of the teeth.
- Dry mouth
Millions of Americans suffer from a consistently dry mouth. There are multiple causes of dry mouth, and the most common one is prescription medication side effects. We need saliva to fight the bacteria in our mouths. Without saliva, the scales tip in favor of the bacteria, and they are able to overgrow and accumulate at a faster rate.
Dry mouth increases your risk for all types of dental disease, including cavities and gum disease. The lack of saliva and its bacteria-fighting enzymes allows the bacteria to multiply and more easily cause gingivitis.
- Certain prescription medications
Many prescription medications cause dry mouth, and there are some that cause an inflamed overgrowth of gum tissue. If your gums seem to be growing and getting larger or puffier, check with your dentist to see if one of your prescription medications is to blame. We will work with your medical doctor to find a solution to treat your medical condition without causing problems with your gums.
- Faulty dental work
Having smooth surfaces on teeth is essential for resisting plaque buildup. It is more difficult for plaque to “stick to” a glossy, shiny surface. This is why your dental hygienist polishes your teeth with a gritty polishing paste after scraping away all of the tartar and plaque buildup.
In some cases, existing dental work is a rough texture or lacks a smooth junction with the edge of the tooth. Any rough area is a magnet for plaque because it is easier for the plaque to adhere to. If you suffer from chronic gingivitis around a particular dental crown or filling, that dental work may need replacement.
- Food impaction between teeth
Small gaps between the teeth often collect food particles when you eat. This irritates the gum tissue between the teeth in several ways. First, the simple pressure from the food wedged between the teeth causes inflammation. Secondly, the food provides a source of fuel for the bacteria in plaque, so the plaque buildup grows. If you have an area that consistently collects food between the teeth, talk to your dentist about the different treatment options to close the gap that is present.
What Can I Do About Gingivitis?
It is very important to treat gingivitis in its early stages so that it does not progress into full blown periodontal disease, which destroys the underlying jaw bone. There are two important ways to address gingivitis: one at the dental office, and one at home.
The first step in treating gingivitis is a professional teeth cleaning. During a teeth cleaning, your dental hygienist removes all of the plaque and tartar buildup from the teeth, giving you a clean slate! Your gums will not instantly heal; it will take several days for the inflammation to resolve after a professional teeth cleaning.
Because no one is a perfect brusher and flosser, everyone needs to have a professional teeth cleaning on a consistent basis. For most people, this should happen every six months.
Your dental hygienist will give you a clean slate, and then it is your job to keep it clean. A good at-home oral hygiene routine must include twice daily brushing with the proper technique, nightly flossing, and using the right mouthwash. Your dentist and dental hygienist can instruct you on the proper brushing and flossing techniques and explain which mouthwash is right for your individual needs.
More Questions about Gingivitis?
Call your nearest Premier Dental of Ohio location today to schedule a consultation with one of our skilled dentists or dental hygienists. They can answer all of your gingivitis questions and get you back on track to healthy gums!