If you think gingivitis is not a disease, can be treated with Listerine, or only affects your gums, you may suffer from what we like to refer to as gingivitis “itis.”
You’ve grown desensitized to the serious nature of gingivitis – a disease that when left untreated, can progress to a point that you risk tooth loss, heart disease and even stroke, according to the American Academy of Periodontology.
What exactly is gingivitis?
Gingivitis is a condition where the gums (gingiva) become inflamed (itis) due to bacterial infection. First, plaque accumulates along the gumline and between teeth. Plaque is sticky residue teeming with bacteria that is created when ingested starches and sugars react with bacteria already present in your mouth. The hardened form of plaque is known as calculus or tartar, and can only be removed with specialized tools. The bacteria in plaque and tartar release toxins, or poisons, which infect the gums and lead to the inflammation referred to as gingivitis. Just think about it; you wouldn’t want to leave an infected splinter in your foot long-term. Why would you ever want to do the same thing in your mouth? And if that’s not enough to convince you, these same bacteria also secrete an acidic byproduct that dissolves tooth enamel and leads to decay.
Chronis gingivitis can eventually cause the gums to pull away from the tooth and bone, and form pockets that fill with plaque, tartar and bacteria. This causes further inflammation and allows bacteria to attack the teeth’s roots and supporting bone. Plaque and tartar that form below the gums is even more difficult to clean off, and often requires a more extensive hygiene appointment. At this point, the gingivitis has progressed to periodontitis, or periodontal disease – inflammation of the tissues around teeth that can lead to tooth and bone loss, and risk for heart disease and stroke.
How did we become desensitized to the beginning stages of such a serious disease?
We have a couple of theories. First, gingivitis is heard frequently in mouth rinse commercials where companies claim their formula helps prevent gingivitis and gum disease. Mouth rinse can help prevent gingivitis when used in combination with tooth brushing and flossing by reducing bacteria that lead to plaque buildup, but will not prevent it when used alone, or treat it by removing the plaque or tartar build up.
Second, many ads and even some dental professionals play up the fact that gingivitis is the mildest form of gum disease. But not in our practice. Gingivitis should not be thought of as a mild form of gum disease, but as the first stage of a serious disease. It will progress if it isn’t treated and you don’t change your lifestyle.
“Patients who don’t take gingivitis seriously, or think they have plenty of time to treat it are taking a huge risk,” says Tewksbury dentist Dr. Nitish Nahata. “Patients with gingivitis cannot predict the exact moment it will progress to periodontitis, just as a sunbather cannot predict the exact amount of sun exposure they can subject themselves to before they develop skin cancer.”
Risk factors for gingivitis
- Hormonal fluctuations – such as those occurring during pregnancy
- HIV, Addison’s disease, and other immunodeficiency disorders
- Dry mouth – can be genetic or a side effect of certain medications
Signs of gingivitis
- Bleeding gums – healthy gums do not bleed during flossing or brushing
- Red, swollen or tender gums
- Chronic bad breath
- Receding gums or misshapen gums
The following are signs that your gingivitis may have progressed to periodontal disease:
- Deep pockets between teeth and gums
- Loose teeth
- Changes in the way your teeth fit together when biting down
- The appearance of gaps between your front teeth
The key to treating gingivitis is removing the source of infection. Heavy plaque or tartar buildup will need to be removed by a dental professional, and an antibiotic may be prescribed.
A healthy at-home routine of twice daily brushing, flossing and rinsing with an antibacterial mouthwash, paired with at least two professional hygiene appointments per year, will suppress plaque accumulation and prevent gum disease.
While gingivitis can be treated with minimally invasive techniques, it has the ability to progress into a much more serious stage of gum disease that puts not only your oral health at risk, but also your physical heath. Call today if you are experiencing any signs of gingivitis, or to establish a dental home with our skilled and caring staff.