Gingivitis is the inflammation of the gums and is usually associated with bacterial infections. Generally, it precedes gum disease (periodontitis) but may not always progress to periodontitis. If the condition is not treated, it can lead to the separation of the gums from the teeth and tooth loss.
People with mild forms of gingivitis exhibit only mild symptoms which are difficult to identify. The symptoms may include:
- Soft gums
- Swollen gums
- Receding gums (pulling back of the gum margins surrounding the teeth)
- Bad breath that does not resolve with good oral hygiene
- Purple to bright red colored gums
- Bleeding of the gums while brushing or flossing
- Tenderness in the gums
- Sensitive teeth
Gingivitis results from excessive plaque deposits on the teeth. Plaque is a sticky film which builds up on the teeth due to the interaction of bacteria with food in the mouth. If the plaque is not regularly removed by brushing and flossing, it gets collected under the gum line and turns into a harder substance known as tartar. This can irritate the gum line. Prolonged periods of gingival irritation can lead to gingivitis.
Hormonal changes which occur during pregnancy, menstruation, or with the use of contraceptive pills may increase the sensitivity of the gums and lead to gingivitis.
The following factors increase the likelihood of a person to develop gingivitis:
- Advancing age
- Regular smoking
- Crooked teeth which is difficult to clean
- Improper fitting of dental appliances
- Diseases such as diabetes, cancers, HIV
- Medicines such as certain anticonvulsants and anti-angina medicines which affect the salivary flow
- Vitamin C deficiency in the diet
- A family history of gingivitis
If proper treatment is not taken for gingivitis, it can lead to periodontitis. A severe form of gingivitis known as necrotizing ulcerative gingivitis (NUG) or trench mouth which causes pain, bleeding from the gums, ulcerations and infection may also develop if gingivitis is not managed properly.
Gum inflammation present for prolonged periods can lead to respiratory diseases, stroke, rheumatoid arthritis, and coronary artery disease.
Sometimes the bacteria can enter the blood circulation and affect the lungs, kidneys, heart and other parts of the body.
When to consult the doctor?
Consult the dentist as soon as the signs and symptoms of gingivitis are noticed. This helps to prevent the progression of the disease.
Diagnosis involves taking the dental and medical history of the patient. This is followed by a physical examination of the gums, teeth, tongue and mouth to check for the signs of inflammation or plaque. Examination of the gums includes probing them with a small ruler. This helps the dentist to check for inflammation and determine the depth of the pockets around the teeth. If the depth is more than 3 millimeters, it indicates gum disease.
Gingivitis usually resolves by practicing good oral hygiene such as a timely brushing and flossing of the teeth and using mouthwashes.
In general, treatment of gingivitis is carried out by a periodontist (specialist in treating gum diseases). Treatment options include:
Professional dental cleaning
It includes procedures such as scaling and root planing. Scaling removes the tartar and plaque from the surfaces of the teeth and gums. Root planing removes the plaque, prevents further development of plaque and tartar, and smoothens the root surfaces. This helps in resolving gingivitis in most of the patients.
- Antiseptic mouthwashes are given to disinfect the mouth.
- Oral antibiotics may be given to overcome the persistent infection.
- Antibiotic microspheres may be inserted into the pockets after scaling and root planning.
- Bone and tissue grafts may be used in case of severely damaged teeth and jaw which does not heal with medicines.
- Flap surgery may be performed by lifting the gums back to remove the plaque and suturing the gums back in place to snugly fit around the teeth.
It may be possible to prevent gingivitis by taking the below measures:
- Maintaining good oral hygiene such as brushing the teeth twice daily and flossing between the teeth at least once everyday
- Regularly visiting the dentist (once for every 6 to 12 months)
- Eating a healthy diet to strengthen the immune system
- Proper management of conditions such as diabetes