Gingivitis Symptoms, Causes, Prevention and Treatment
Gingivitis is a chronic inflammation of the gum tissue (gingiva). Typically associated with poor oral hygiene, gingivitis is the early stage of gum disease (also called periodontal disease and periodontitis).
If gingivitis is diagnosed early by your dentist or periodontist, it can be treated and possibly even reversed. If left untreated, gingivitis can advance to periodontitis, a more serious oral health issue that is not reversible (without surgery) and can include bone and tooth loss. Gum disease is one of the leading causes of tooth loss among adults. In recent studies it has also been linked to heart attacks, strokes and diabetes.
Symptoms of Gingivitis
Many people are not even aware that they have gingivitis, because it is usually not painful. The most common signs and symptoms of gingivitis are red, swollen and puffy gums that bleed easily. Your dentist can evaluate the condition of your gums at your routine checkups.
Additional gingivitis symptoms include:
- Mouth sores
- Itchy gums
- Bad breath
- Bad taste
- Gum recession (this occurs when the gums pull away (recede) from the tooth)
If you are diagnosed with gingivitis, it can usually be treated easily with a thorough in-office dental cleaning and followed up with proper oral care at home.
Causes of Gingivitis
While poor oral hygiene is usually the cause of gingivitis, there are a number of other factors that can contribute as well:
- Certain medications
- Substance abuse
- Poor nutrition
- Certain diseases and conditions
- Hormonal fluctuations
Untreated gingivitis usually progresses into the more serious stages of gum disease, which causes irreversible bone loss and potential tooth loss. Prevention is therefore essential.
The best way to prevent gingivitis is to maintain good oral hygiene by brushing at least twice a day, flossing daily, using an antimicrobial mouth rinse only if your dental hygienist or your dentist recommend that visiting your dentist for regular checkups and maintaining a proper and nutritious diet.
Choosing the right toothbrush is important for gingivitis prevention. Softer brushes are less likely to injure your gums, and electric toothbrushes often seem to encourage better brushing habits. Remember not to overdo; brushing too long or too hard can do more harm than good.
If gingivitis is caught in its earliest stages, it is extremely manageable. Your dentist, dental hygienist or periodontist will thoroughly clean your teeth in a process called scaling, during which all hardened tartar and plaque are removed from your teeth, both above and below the gum line. Tooth scaling can be uncomfortable, depending on the amount of tartar and plaque buildup and your level of tooth sensitivity, so a numbing gel or anesthetic injection may be administered to the area.
Following scaling, your dentist may recommend an oral rinse and will advise you on a good oral health maintenance regimen. Bleeding may occur during the first couple of days after scaling, but should subside if you maintain your regimen.
In addition to the traditional treatments for gingivitis, some alternatives may also help treat or prevent minor cases of inflammation of the gums. They include:
- Vitamin C supplements: Vitamin C has natural antibiotic components that may help promote healthy gums. A recommended daily intake of 1,000 milligrams may help stave off gingivitis.
- Cranberries: Often used as part of the treatment for urinary tract infections, cranberries may also help prevent gingivitis. Cranberries have a natural quality that can prevent bacteria from adhering to the gums and teeth. Be sure to avoid cranberry products with added sugar.
- Grapefruit seed extract: Like vitamin C, grapefruit seed extract has natural antibiotic qualities. Adding a couple of drops to your toothpaste each time you brush may help treat or prevent gingivitis. Grapefruit seed extract is contraindicated for individuals on certain medications. Check with your dentist or physician before using it.