Gingivitis is the technical name for gum disease and means inflammation of the gums. Gingivitis is an incredibly common condition — at any given time about half of all adults have it.
On its own, gingivitis is a non-destructive and not particularly worrying disease. The symptoms (see below) are often so mild that people often don’t even realise they have it.
This might make it seem ultimately harmless, but it actually hides a worrying truth; if left untreated, gingivitis develops into periodontitis. Where gingivitis is non-destructive, periodontitis can have devastating effects on the mouth — and the rest of the body.
Being able to prevent, or at least quickly treat, gingivitis is one of the best ways to keep your mouth healthy and free of many other ailments.
What Causes Gingivitis?
There are many causes of gingivitis.
The most common is a buildup of bacterial plaque between and around the teeth. This buildup triggers an immune response, which often appears as reddening, tenderness, and swelling of the gum. Eventually, this immune response can lead to the destruction of the gum tissue or, if left unchecked, ultimately the loss of teeth.
Dental plaque is naturally occurring, formed by bacterial colonies attempting to grow on the smooth surface of the teeth. This biofilm may actually serve to protect the teeth from harmful microorganisms, but it needs to be kept in check.
Too much plaque can lead to tooth decay. Over time, plaque will harden into a substance called calculus, or tartar. Tartar irritates the gum and provides the perfect breeding ground for bacterial growth to reach harmful levels.
As we said, however, this is only the most common reason. Other risk factors include:
- Infections from wounds to the gum.
- Hormonal changes, such as those experienced during puberty, pregnancy, and menopause. During these changes the gums can become sensitive, making them more prone to inflammation.
- Certain diseases such as cancer, diabetes, and HIV.
- Many medications and recreational drugs, especially those which reduce the flow of saliva. Smoking is particularly known to increase the risk of gum disease. Some medications can even cause abnormal gum tissue growth.
- Age and family history. The older we get, the more likely we are to get gingivitis. Family history also plays a part — children of people who have had gingivitis are more likely to develop it themselves.
- Poor diet, especially if you have a vitamin-C deficiency.
What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Gingivitis?
Common signs and symptoms of gingivitis include:
- Swelling of the gum, hence the name gingivitis
- Reddening or darkening of the gums
- Tenderness that can be painful to the touch
- Bleeding gums, especially after brushing and flossing
- Bad breath
- Receding gums — when the gum line seems to shrink back, revealing more tooth.
- Unusually soft gums
It’s important to note that mild cases of gum disease may not show any signs, or even cause any discomfort.
What Are the Health Risks of Gum Disease?
Gingivitis poses complications for not just the mouth, but the whole body.
In terms of oral conditions, advanced gum disease can lead to:
- Abscesses and ulceration in the gums.
- Abscesses and infections in the jaw bone.
- Periodontitis, which can result in bone and tooth loss.
There is growing evidence to show that there is a link between gum disease and health concerns in the rest of the body. The more advanced the gum disease, the higher the risk.
For example, people with periodontitis are at a higher risk of hypertension. Moderate-to-severe periodontitis makes a person 22% more likely to suffer hypertension; severe periodontitis took that number to a staggering 49%.
Hypertension, in turn, can lead to heart attacks and stroke. Periodontitis, that means, can actually severely increase the risk of potentially fatal cardiovascular conditions.
While the link between periodontitis and cardiovascular health is the most well-established, there is evidence to suggest that gum disease also increases the risk of lung diseases and complications with pregnancies.
How Do You Treat Gingivitis?
Most mild cases of gingivitis can be treated at home by brushing and flossing your teeth diligently. Being sure to remove plaque consistently and stay on top of your oral hygiene at home is both prevention and cure for mild gingivitis.
Slightly more advanced cases, particularly where symptoms have become noticeable, should be treated by an oral hygienist or dentist.
With professional dental treatment for gingivitis, you’ll typically receive what’s called a scale and clean. Scaling is removing tartar from your teeth using special tools — something many find uncomfortable, but which is becoming more comfortable with the increased use of hypersonic tools rather than scraping instruments.
Once the tartar is removed, the teeth are cleaned and you’ll be given a fluoride rinse to help protect and strengthen your teeth.
If the gingivitis was particularly advanced, the dentist or hygienist may check for periodontitis. This usually involves an x-ray to check the health of the bone and teeth underneath the gum.
You may also be advised to get more frequent dental checkups. This will help to stay on top of any recurring gingivitis and keep your mouth healthy.
If you’re experiencing any symptoms or would like the expert opinion of a qualified dentist, make an appointment with Enamel Dental Studio by calling (07) 3841 6641 or email [email protected].