Dental Tips and Advice

What is Gingivitis?

September 27, 2021

Gingivitis is a mild form of gum disease that is actually pretty common. When someone has gingivitis, their gingiva — the sections of gums at the base of your teeth — become inflamed, swollen, and irritated.

When your mouth is healthy, your gums should be firm, have a pale pink color, and fit tightly around your teeth. If you have gingivitis, your gums will:

  • Have a bright, deep red or purple color
  • Be puffy and swollen
  • Recede away from your teeth
  • Be soft and tender-to-touch
  • And bleed easily when you floss or brush your teeth

Another possible symptom of gum disease is halitosis, or bad breath.

Although gingivitis can typically be treated and reversed, it still needs to be taken seriously to avoid more severe complications. If your gingivitis is left untreated, you may lose your teeth or develop periodontitis, a bacterial gum disease that may be able to spread to other parts of your body.

In extreme cases, gum disease can progress to trench mouth, or necrotizing ulcerative gingivitis (NUG). Trench mouth can cause infected, painful, bleeding gums and ulcerations and is rare in developed countries.

What causes gingivitis?

When you develop bad oral hygiene habits, plaque can collect on and around your teeth, and gingivitis can develop. Here’s how:

  1. Plaque develops on your teeth.

    When sugars and starches in food mix with your normal mouth bacteria, a sticky, transparent film (plaque) develops around your teeth. When you brush your teeth daily, you can remove the plaque. But when you forget to brush, it will just continue building.

  2. Plaque becomes harder to remove.

    As the plaque collects on your teeth, it can solidify into what is called tartar, or calculus.  The tartar is challenging to remove, keeps collecting bacteria, irritates your gums, and even builds a protective shield around the harmful bacteria in your mouth. Once tartar develops, your teeth will need to be cleaned by a dentist.

  3. Your gingiva become irritated & inflamed.

    As more and more tartar collects around your teeth, your gingiva — remember, the gums immediately around your teeth — become more and more inflamed, swollen, and tender. Your teeth may even start to decay.

In addition to poor oral health habits, there are a number of things that may heighten your risk of developing gingivitis:

  • Smoking & chewing tobacco
  • A poor diet, especially a diet lacking vitamin C
  • Hormonal changes (like puberty, menopause, menstrual cycle, & pregnancy)
  • Crooked teeth or other circumstances that make it hard to clean your teeth
  • Certain diseases, like diabetes, cancer, HIV/AIDS, respiratory disease, coronary artery disease, stroke, and rheumatoid arthritis
  • Specific drugs that reduce saliva flow, like phenytoin for epileptic seizures
  • Older age
  • Family history

How can I prevent — or reverse — gingivitis?

The good news is gingivitis is both preventable and reversible. Here are some things you can do to fight it off:

  1. Practice good oral health.

    Brush your teeth regularly — minimally, at morning and at night, but ideally, after every meal or snack. Flossing every day before brushing and rinsing your mouth routinely with antiseptic mouthwash can help destroy any plaque that has accumulated.

  2. Go see your dentist regularly.

    It’s best to visit your dentist at least every 6-12 months — and perhaps more if you fall into some of the risk-factor categories above. Your dentist can keep an eye out for gum disease symptoms and treat them before they become an even larger issue.

  3. Set an appointment as soon as you see signs.

    If you’re experiencing any of the symptoms described in the top of the article, schedule an appointment with your dentist as soon as possible. Your dentist can remove the plaque and tartar build-up and get your smile back into shape.

If you have further questions about gingivitis or other gum diseases, feel free to ask your dentist. If you think you may have gingivitis, our team at Salling and Tate can help ! Give us a call today at 910-256-9040, or click here to schedule your next appointment online.