What is Gingivitis?

A lot of people hear this word from their dentist and are not really sure what it means.  Have you been told that you have gingivitis by your dentist or dental hygienist?  Do you sometimes see blood when you spit your toothpaste out in the sink?  This blog will describe what gingivitis is, what it is not, what causes it, and what you can do about it.

What Gingivitis Is

The word gingivitis is easy to break down into its two components: gingiva and the suffix “–itis”.  Gingiva is the scientific term for gum tissue.  The suffix “–itis” always indicates inflammation.  Appendicitis is inflammation of the appendix.  Dermatitis is inflammation of the skin.  Inflammation will always exhibit at least one of four characteristics: redness, swelling, heat, and pain.

In gingivitis, the most common characteristics of inflammation are redness and swelling.  Any bleeding of the gums without injury indicates the presence of gingivitis (and, no, brushing, flossing and professional teeth cleanings do not count as injuries).  Gingivitis can be localized or generalized.  Localized gingivitis is isolated to a small area of the mouth, perhaps 1-2 teeth.  Generalized gingivitis is inflammation of the gum tissue around all of the teeth.

What Gingivitis Is Not

While gingivitis is typically present at the same time as many of these other conditions, it is technically not the same thing.

Periodontal disease – Periodontal disease is the loss of gum and bone attachment to teeth.  The jawbone and gums are the foundation on which our teeth function.  They support the teeth and hold them in place.  When periodontal disease is present, that support is compromised.  In severe periodontal disease, the teeth will become loose and, in extreme cases, can even fall out.  Periodontal disease often occurs in conjunction with gingivitis.  Gingivitis, if untreated, will advance to periodontal disease.  However, periodontal disease is called a “silent” disease because the inflammation can be hidden underneath the gums, not visible to an untrained eye.

Gum recession – Gum recession is the process of gum tissue receding down the root surface of a tooth.  Recession exposes the root and also compromises the support for a tooth because it is a loss of attachment.  Gum recession is often accompanied by gingivitis, but recession can be present without any inflammation.

What Causes Gingivitis

Plaque – The #1 cause of gingivitis is the accumulation of plaque.  Plaque consists of bacteria, their by-products, and food debris.  Plaque is an irritant to gum tissue, so when it is not properly cleaned away, the gums respond with an inflammatory reaction.  Plaque is the easiest cause of gingivitis to treat.

Hormones – Many people experience changes in levels of inflammation due to changes in levels of hormones.  This can affect patients going through puberty, pregnancy, and menopause.

Mouth breathing – Constant mouth breathing has a drying effect on all the tissue inside the mouth.  Saliva is instrumental in maintaining the pH of a mouth, moistening the tissue, and fighting bacteria.  Mouth breathing allows a greater accumulation of bacteria on the gum tissue, leading to inflammation.  This can affect people who have nasal obstruction, severe allergies, or sleep-disordered breathing.

Braces – Orthodontic treatment creates beautiful smiles.  Sometimes it also contributes to gingivitis.  All of the additional fixtures in the mouth during orthodontic treatment provide countless hiding places for bacteria to accumulate.  More bacteria means more gingivitis.

Some prescription medications – There are a few prescription medications that cause gingivitis as a common side effect.  Dr. Chowning is familiar with these drugs and their influence on gum tissue.  They will advise you in the event you are taking a medication that could cause changes in your gum tissue.

What You Can Do About Gingivitis

  • Improve your oral hygiene routine at home! Your routine should include brushing twice daily and flossing before bedtime.  Adding a pre-brush mouthrinse that contains hydrogen peroxide (like an over-the-counter whitening mouthrinse) will help reduce inflammation in your gum tissue.
  • Have your teeth professionally cleaned! Patients who are prone to gingivitis should never miss a cleaning.  Many even need to have cleanings more frequently than ever 6 months.  The good news is that more frequent cleanings always mean more comfortable cleanings.  If you skip cleanings, the bacterial buildup that is causing the gingivitis will persist and can worsen into periodontal disease.
  • Talk it over with your dentist. You may have more than one risk factor for gingivitis, like mouth breathing or hormones.  Chowning will give you customized recommendations for your specific situation.

Worried about Gingivitis?

Call our office at 940-382-1750 to schedule a consultation to discuss your concerns with Dr. Chowning and start a plan to resolve your gingivitis.

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