Gingivitis may seem like a mild irritation that you may or may not notice on a daily basis, however, gingivitis left untreated can lead to much more serious gum disease and tooth loss. Therefore, paying attention to your gums should be an important step in your dental care routine. Luckily, gingivitis is easy to treat and even easier to prevent with good oral health habits and regular dental visits.
What is gingivitis?
Gingivitis is the earliest and most common stage of gum disease and if left untreated, can progress to a more serious condition, called periodontitis. This oral health condition involves the irritation and infection of periodontal (gum) tissue. Advanced gum disease is the leading cause of tooth loss among adults. This is because tartar accumulation and infected gums break down the supportive structures that keep teeth upright and stable.
How does gum disease progress?
The leading cause of gum disease is poor oral hygiene. When the bacteria in your mouth turns into plaque, it can inflame the gums. Plaque reforms daily, combining the bacteria in your mouth with the sugars and starches found in your diet to stick to your teeth. If you have too much plaque, it hardens into tartar (also known as calculus) below the gum line. Tartar requires professional removal from a dental hygienist, usually every six months. If left unremoved, tartar can irritate the gums and gingivitis can begin.
Bleeding, reddened, or swollen gums can be the first warning signs of gingivitis, most commonly noticed during daily brushing or flossing. Healthy gums should be pink whereas gums with gingivitis can appear red to dark red. Although the gums may be irritated, teeth remain firmly in place.
As the gum disease progresses, you may notice sensitivity in your teeth, pain and even bad breath. The tartar build-up around the gums begins to create small pockets between tooth and gum, creating a space for even more bacteria and debris to collect and create infections.
Your immune system will try to subdue the infection, however, the bacteria in plaque create toxins that clash with the usually helpful enzymes in your body, turning your immune system against itself. In response, the body begins to break down the bone and connective tissue that otherwise keep teeth in place. The cycle only worsens as the loss of connective tissue creates more space for debris and bacteria to settle in, causing loose teeth and eventually tooth loss.
Diagnosing Periodontal Disease
Because gingivitis can go unnoticed for some time, it’s most often diagnosed during routine cleanings and exams at the dental office. What might feel like an overenthusiastic dental hygienist flossing your teeth could actually be a sign you may have gingivitis.
During your exam, your dentist will ask about anything you may have noticed changes in your mouth since your last visit, including any changes in your bite, feelings of looseness around your teeth, or concerns about your gums. In addition to sharing this information with your dentist, x-rays will be used to check the bone structure of your mouth and look for any signs of pockets under the gum line.
Preventing Periodontal Disease
Because treating advanced gum disease can be costly and invasive, prevention is important. To maintain healthy gums, patients should practice thorough and meticulous oral hygiene that includes daily flossing and twice-daily brushing. When brushing and flossing, patients need to take their time cleaning their teeth and gums rather than rushing through their regimen.
On top of healthy habits at home, patients should receive regular cleanings and checkups with their dentist. Cleanings remove substances like tartar that inflame and infect gums while checkups allow our team to evaluate gum health with trained eyes. Detecting gum disease as early as possible means that patients normally enjoy a good prognosis and recovery.
Lastly, changes to your health and lifestyle can help reduce your risk of gingivitis. Smokers are seven times more likely to develop periodontitis than nonsmokers. Stress lowers your immune system’s ability to fight back infections. And a healthy diet full of foods with vitamin E and C, specifically, helps to boost your immune system.
Twice-daily brushing and once-daily flossing, combined with routine dental cleanings prevent gingivitis in most cases. Gingivitis can go unnoticed early on, so pay attention to any bleeding, swelling, or irritation in your gums during your at-home care. If you suspect you may have gingivitis, schedule a check-up with your dentist. The best treatment for gingivitis is preventative care, however, periodontitis can be treated with what is referred to as a deep cleaning or scaling and root planning (SRP) and can be done in-office at any Dental Depot. In the instance of advanced periodontitis, patients may be referred to a periodontal specialist.
To schedule a cleaning or checkup with our caring dental team, call one of our Dental Depot offices today or request an appointment online.