February 3, 2010

Gingivitis: Causes & Cures

Gingivitis is a reversible form of gum disease. If not treated, it can lead to a more serious disease known as periodontitis that can lead to tooth loss.

Periodontal diseases are caused by plaque, the sticky film of bacteria that forms on teeth that creates toxins that attack the gums. These gum diseases infect the tissues that support teeth in the v-shaped space between tooth and gums known as the sulcus.

Gingivitis is thought of as a mild, early stage of periodontal disease. It is indicated by red, swollen gums that can bleed easily. Good oral hygiene (daily brushing and flossing) can stop the infection if it is caught at this stage.

If not stopped at an early stage, the sulcus can grow so deep that the tooth no longer has support. At that point, teeth can loosen, fall out, or may need to be pulled.

Risk Factors for Gingivitis

Some things raise the risk for periodontal disease. These include:

  • Certain types of drugs and medical treatments. These can include steroids, some anti-epilepsy drugs, cancer therapy drugs, some calcium channel blockers and oral contraceptives. Some drugs reduce the production of saliva, which can affect gum tissue health. Others can stimulate abnormal gum tissue growth.
  • Diabetes or other systemic diseases.
    Cancer and HIV compromise the immune system, which makes the gums more prone to infection. Diabetes affects the body’s ability to use blood sugar, which raises infection risk.
  • Ill-fitting bridges. Dental bridges that do not fit right can hold food particles and help plaque grow.
  • Dental fillings that have become defective.
    This may trap bacteria and plaque and increase the chances of periodontal disease.
  • Pregnancy and other hormonal changes. Puberty, pregnancy, menopause, and menstruation all make the gums more sensitive.
  • Tobacco smoking or chewing. These products block the gum’s ability to repair itself.
  • Poor dental hygiene. Failure to brush and floss regularly will help plaque to develop.

Warning Signs and Symptoms

Warning signs of gingivitis include:

  • Gums that bleed when you brush your teeth
  • Gums that are red, swollen, or tender
  • Receding gums
  • Bad breath that won’t go away
  • Pus between your teeth and gums
  • Loose teeth
  • A change in your bite
  • A change in the way partial dentures fit

Often those with gingivitis have no symptoms. Regular trips to your dentist can help assure early detection and prevention.

Detection, Treatment and Prevention

Early detection of gingivitis is the best non-surgical way to reverse the disease. In an office visit, your dentist will examine:

  • Your gums for pockets between the gums and teeth
  • Your teeth for looseness or sensitivity
  • Your bite for any changes
  • Your jaw (using x-rays) to see if the bone has broken down in any way

Gum disease often can be reversed by twice-daily brushing and flossing. Using a soft-bristled toothbrush, floss or interdental cleaners, and toothpastes and oral rinses with fluoride will help make teeth strong and prevent decay. Eating a balanced diet with limited snacks will also help to reduce the risk of gingivitis.

Depending on the severity of the gum disease, treatments can vary from non-surgical therapies that limit the growth of bacteria to surgeries that repair the tissues that support the teeth.

Finally, schedule regular checkups with your dentist for professional cleanings and exams. This is a key part of an effective dental hygiene regimen that can help you avoid gum disease. Maintaining this regimen will ensure healthy – and long lasting – teeth and gums.