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Gingivitis: Symptoms and Causes in South Hampton Roads

What Is Gingivitis?

Compared to other forms of gum disease, also called periodontal disease, gingivitis is considered the mildest form. The disease causes inflammation of the gums, causing the gum tissue to appear red and swollen. Gingivitis is very common, and many people will develop some form of gum disease during their lives. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that approximately 47% of people over the age of 30 already have some form of periodontal disease. As you age, your risk of getting periodontal disease increases. The CDC reports that slightly more than 70% of adults 65 and older have periodontal disease. If ignored, gingivitis can develop into a serious gum disease known as periodontitis, which can cause tooth loss.

Are There Common Symptoms of Gingivitis?

One of the main concerns with gingivitis is that the condition is usually painless and doesn’t cause noticeable symptoms in its early stages. If you have healthy gum tissue, it will fit snugly around your teeth and be pink in color. However, gums that are red, swollen, or puffy are warning signs of gingivitis, in addition to these other symptoms:

  • Bleeding gums while brushing or flossing
  • Gums that are painful or tender when touched
  • Development of spaces in between teeth
  • Increased tooth sensitivity
  • Receding gums
  • Persistent bad breath
  • Loose teeth

What Are the Causes of Gingivitis?

Plaque buildup is the main cause of gingivitis. Plaque is a sticky film composed of bacteria, and it’s constantly developing on the surface of your teeth. It must be removed every day through brushing and flossing because the bacteria in plaque forms on your teeth when it interacts with the starches and sugars found in food. The bacteria in plaque can produce toxins that cause inflammation of the gums.

If not removed daily, plaque can form into a hard substance known as tartar. Tartar, also called calculus, quickly attracts bacteria and can irritate the gums even further. Tartar can’t be removed through brushing and flossing alone and must be eliminated with a professional cleaning by your dentist or hygienist. The bacteria present in plaque and tartar is what causes gum tissue to bleed while brushing and flossing and appear red and swollen. If you ignore these symptoms, gingivitis can progress to periodontitis, a serious infection of the supporting structures of the teeth that can lead to tooth loss.

What Are the Risk Factors of Gum Disease?

Although the accumulation of plaque is the primary cause of gum disease, there are numerous factors that can increase your risk of developing gingivitis, including:

  • Poor brushing and flossing habits
  • Crooked teeth that are difficult to clean
  • Older age
  • Poor nutrition, including a diet low in vitamin C
  • Chewing tobacco or smoking
  • Conditions that lower immunity, such as leukemia and other types of cancer and HIV/AIDS
  • Certain medications, including anticonvulsants, cancer treatments, oral contraceptives, and calcium channel blockers
  • Diabetes
  • Hormonal changes, including during menstruation, pregnancy, or menopause
  • Poor-fitting dental appliances, such as bridges or dentures
  • A family history of gum disease
  • Dry mouth

Can Gum Disease Affect Your Health in Other Ways?

You might be surprised to learn that gum disease can cause other complications besides tooth loss. Researchers have discovered that there’s a strong link between periodontal disease and many health problems. Findings by the American Academy of Periodontology (AAP) suggest that inflammation caused by periodontal disease is responsible for this association. Here are several serious health problems that are linked to the development of gum disease, according to the Mayo Clinic and the AAP:

  • Osteoporosis
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Problems controlling blood sugar
  • Stroke
  • Heart disease
  • Respiratory disease
  • Cancer

How Can I Prevent Gum Disease?

Preventing gum disease begins with engaging in healthy dental habits at home. Daily brushing and flossing can help remove harmful bacteria and plaque before it begins to accumulate and cause problems. If you’re unsure about the proper technique for flossing your teeth or how long you should brush your teeth, ask your dentist or dental hygienist for more information.

Regularly visiting your dentist for professional exams and cleanings is also an important preventative measure. Some patients may only need to come into our office every six months for a cleaning and examination, but other patients may need to be seen more frequently. This is usually the case for patients who have dry mouth, are regular users of tobacco products, or who have deep pockets around their teeth. Eating a well-balanced diet and avoiding smoking and tobacco products can also prevent gum disease.

Gingivitis Treatment

The good news regarding gingivitis treatment is that the condition can be reversed when diagnosed and treated early. A professional cleaning that removes hardened tartar and plaque, and a commitment to brushing and flossing at home is usually all that’s needed to treat gingivitis in its early stages.

However, when gingivitis progresses to the advanced stage known as periodontitis, scaling and root planing is required. Scaling and root planing is a deep cleaning procedure that removes tartar and plaque above and below the gum line. Your dentist will also smooth the root surfaces of your teeth, which encourages healing and discourages additional buildup of bacteria and tartar. After treatment, it’s essential to brush and floss daily.

Early detection of gingivitis and gum disease can make a big difference in preventing tooth loss. If your gums are beginning to bleed when you floss or brush, or if you notice any change in the overall health of your teeth and gums, we recommend contacting our office right away. We look forward to seeing you and helping you maintain good oral health.

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