Most of us have heard the term gingivitis. It’s been used in Listerine TV commercials for decades. Few of us, however, know what it is. Fewer still show any concern about it.
Ah, but Dr. Frey would advise you to keep an eye on those gums turning from a healthy pink color to a darker red tone. That’s one of the early signs of gingivitis, which is the earliest stage of gum disease.
Let’s get into gingivitis and why you need to pay attention to it.
What is Gingivitis?
Just the word sounds ominous — gingivitis. But the actual definition in the Oxford Dictionary is “Inflammation of the gums.” Really, we’re simply talking about irritated gums. Gingivitis is the first stage of gum disease. To get to any degree of full-blown gum disease you need to first pass through gingivitis. Gingivitis is an easily treatable and reversible level of gum disease. You know your gums have moved into gingivitis because they will be red, swollen, and will bleed easily. There’s little or no discomfort at this early stage of gum disease.
What causes Gingivitis?
Plaque is the main irritant of the gums. Plaque is the film that forms on the teeth throughout the day consisting of bacteria, bacterial waste products, food residue, and saliva. When you brush and floss you remove the plaque. Then it starts to rebuild, only to be removed again when you brush. But if you neglect your oral hygiene the plaque can develop beneath the gumline, where it is very irritating to your gums. If allowed to stay there, the plaque hardens into tartar, causing more persistent irritation. If this irritation is allowed to continue and progress it can advance to periodontitis.
What are the signs of Gingivitis?
Most people are as unaware of gingivitis as they are unable to spell it. There isn’t any pain involved at this point. Plus, since most gingivitis is caused by poor home oral hygiene, they may not be paying much attention to their teeth anyway. But your gums will tell you they are irritated: they will be swollen, puffy, and will bleed easily. They may have started to recede, and they will have changed from a healthy pink to an angry red. Plus, your breath will have gone south.
How is Gingivitis treated?
When you come see Dr. Frey and our team every six months for your professional cleanings and exams, we will spot gingivitis. That’s the good thing about this stage of gum disease: it is still easy to reverse with some attention and better hygiene. Any damage can be walked back. Diligent twice daily brushing for two minutes, along with daily flossing is what you’ll need to do.
People shrug off the need for twice yearly appointments, but this time frame is important to prevent decay from fully invading a tooth or two. It’s equally important for spotting gingivitis. These cleanings are necessary every six months because that is about the time it takes tartar to form and start moving under your gums.
Dr. Frey will likely use these two procedures to walk back your tartar development:
If you have a fair amount of tartar buildup under your gum line, it is scraped off with dental tools. This is called scaling, and depending how much is necessary, it may require local anesthesia. Dr. Frey also uses our diode laser for these treatments.
- Root Planning
Root planing could be necessary, as well. Here tiny grooves or pits are removed from the tooth roots to make it easier for the gums to adhere and stop receding. This is done in multiple appointments with local anesthesia.
How Can I prevent Gingivitis?
All levels of gum disease development are unfortunate in that, in the vast majority of patients, it doesn’t ever need to occur. If the patient provided diligent home hygiene and maintained the schedule of six-month visits for exams and cleanings, just about all cases of gum disease would never happen.
Gingivitis is the first step, the first sign. To prevent it, all you need to do is brush twice daily with a fluoride toothpaste approved by the American Dental Association (ADA). Brush for two minutes. If you’re a little lackadaisical about such things, get one of the great electric toothbrushes now out there. The ADA has approved many models from Oral-B and other companies. These toothbrushes do the work for you, scrubbing off the plaque that builds up in your mouth throughout the day. They even have built-in timers to tell you when you’ve brushed long enough.
And you need to floss once a day. This only takes 30 seconds or so, but it’s imperative to get plaque and food residue out from between the teeth and under the gum edges on the teeth.
That’s all you need to do to prevent gum disease.
What happens if I don’t do anything about my gum irritation, my Gingivitis?
OK, gingivitis is your gums’ way of yelling at you, “Hey, look at me.” Healthy gum tissue looks like a wad of bubble gum. Healthy gums don’t bleed when you brush and floss. Healthy gums don’t cause bad breath.
So, when you see your gums have become red instead of pink, when you see blood in the sink after your brush, and when your breath could use a mint much more often, these are all signs that you need to heed.
What happens if you don’t? Your gingivitis will turn into full-blown gum disease, periodontitis. The plaque and tartar will push further up under your gums. This will make the gums pull away from the teeth, creating pockets that are awesome places for bacteria to multiply and thrive. These bacteria will attack the gum tissue, the tooth roots, and the connective tissues keeping your teeth in place. You can see where this is headed — tooth loss and a future of dentures.
How long does it take to recover from Gingivitis?
Once your teeth are cleaned and the tartar is broken off things come back quickly. If Dr. Frey has done some root scaling and planing, you’ll have a little soreness for a day or so, but that’s all. Attentive care gets you back on track almost immediately.
Are there foods I need to avoid if I have Gingivitis?
The foods you eat are not the cause of gum irritation; it’s your lack of good oral hygiene. What you eat has no effect at all on your gums. If you see signs of gingivitis, you need to step up your hygiene, not adjust your diet.