Recognizing and Treating Gingivitis
Proper dental care can prevent this common gum disease.
By Lynn Yoffee
Medically Reviewed by Niya Jones, MD, MPH
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If your gums are irritated and frequently bleed, you may have gum disease, also called periodontal disease. There are two types of gum disease: gingivitis and periodontitis. Gingivitis reflects mild to moderate inflammation of your gums (or gingiva). Without proper dental care, it can progress into a more serious condition, called periodontitis, which can result in tooth loss and destruction of the jaw bone.
There is also evidence that untreated gum disease can increase the risk of heart disease and stroke. But by practicing good oral hygiene — brushing and flossing your teeth regularly and getting regular dental checkups and cleanings — you can prevent gingivitis and other more serious oral health problems.
Causes of Gingivitis
Gingivitis typically results from poor dental care. Plaque, a substance that develops from bacteria, mucus, and food particles, can stick to your teeth, causing tooth decay. Without regular dental care to remove plaque buildup, it will harden into tartar and sticks to the base of your teeth. Both plaque and tartar lead to gingivitis.
In addition to poor dental care, other causes of gingivitis include injury to your gums that can result from overly aggressive brushing and flossing, tobacco use, hormonal changes during pregnancy, and poorly controlled diabetes. Additional causes of gingivitis include:
- Improperly aligned teeth
- Poorly fitting braces, crowns, and dentures
- Certain medications, such as Dilantin (phenytoin) and birth control pills
Cancer, HIV/AIDS, and other conditions that weaken the immune system can also increase your risk of gingivitis. A tendency to develop gum disease may also run in families — some people are more susceptible to gingivitis that others.
Gingivitis Signs and Symptoms
You may have gingivitis if:
- Your gums bleed easily
- You frequently develop mouth sores
- Your gums are tender to the touch
- Your gums are swollen
- Your gums appear shiny and visibly irritated
- You have persistently bad breath
- It hurts when you chew
- Your teeth are loose or more sensitive than usual
Your dentist can diagnose gingivitis based on a thorough medical history and an exam of your mouth. As part of your exam, your dentist will measure the areas in your mouth between the teeth and gum tissue using a small, ruler-like tool called a probe. If your measurements reveal larger-than-normal gaps between your teeth and gum line, you probably have gingivitis. Your dentist may also use dental X-rays to evaluate any loss of bone tissue
If you have gingivitis, your dentist will perform a deep cleaning of your teeth and can prescribe medications to help offset bacteria and inflammation. You'll also need to practice good dental care at home to prevent gingivitis from progressing to periodontitis, a serious condition that can require oral surgery.
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