Gingivitis, an early form of gum disease, is extremely common among adults in the United States and is reversible. According to a study by the CDC, 47.2% of adults in the U.S. over the age of 30 have some form of severe gum disease also known as periodontitis. Severe gum disease is even more common among the older population, as 70.1% of adults ages 65 years and older have gum disease (also known as periodontal disease).1 However, gingivitis is both treatable and preventable by sticking to a good oral hygiene routine.
What Is Gingivitis?
Gingivitis is the early stage of gum disease. However, if left untreated, gingivitis can progress to a more severe form of gum disease (periodontitis) and eventually lead to tooth decay or loss. Gingivitis occurs when plaque is left on the teeth at the gumline and the gums become red and inflamed.2 It can cause your gums to bleed easily when you brush your teeth, but bleeding gums can also be a result of brushing your teeth too hard.3
The main cause of gingivitis is plaque buildup. Plaque is a sticky, colorless substance made of mucus, food, and bacteria that builds up on your teeth. Brushing and flossing regularly can help keep plaque under control, but if plaque sits on your teeth for too long, it can harden and turn into tartar. This tartar can further irritation in your gums, and cannot be removed by brushing alone but needs to be professionally cleaned by a dentist.2,4
Plaque and tartar cause more damage the longer they remain on your teeth. If left untreated, your gums can become susceptible to tenderness, inflammation, and bleeding after you brush them. To avoid developing periodontitis it is important to schedule a visit with your dentist if you notice any of these symptoms.2
What Are the Symptoms of Gingivitis?
Healthy gums fit snugly around your teeth and are firm and pale pink in color. Some signs of gingivitis include:
Who Is at Risk for Developing Gingivitis?
Gingivitis is common, and anyone can develop it regardless of underlying conditions.2 That said, the following factors can put you at a higher risk for developing gingivitis and other forms of gum disease:
- Poor oral hygiene
- Older age
- Poor nutrition, vitamin deficiencies
- Hormonal changes in women
- Viral or fungal infections
- AIDS/HIV/cancer treatments and other conditions that lower your immunity
- Crooked teeth or dental work that does not fit properly
- Dry mouth
- Recreational drug use/tobacco products2
Complications from Gingivitis
Even though gingivitis is common, if left untreated it can progress into a more severe form of gum disease called periodontitis. Periodontitis has also been associated with some systemic diseases like diabetes, coronary artery disease, respiratory disease, rheumatoid arthritis, and stroke. Some studies suggest that the bacteria from periodontitis can enter the bloodstream via your gums and affect other parts of your body, but more research is needed on this topic.
A severe form of gingivitis, called trench mouth or necrotizing ulcerative gingivitis (NUG), causes painful, infected, bleeding gums and ulcerations. However, trench mouth is not very common in the U.S. anymore due to improved diet and living conditions not seen in some developing countries.2
Despite being common, gingivitis is easy to prevent with these dental hygiene tips:
- Brush your teeth twice a day, and aim to brush for at least 2 minutes each time
- Clean in between your teeth once a day after brushing your teeth
- Avoid smoking, as smokers are at a much higher risk for gum disease
- Eat a balanced diet that’s low in sugar
- Use a fluoride toothpaste to help protect your enamel and protect against tooth decay
- Use a soft-bristled toothbrush and replace it every 3-4 months
- Visit your dentist regularly. Most dentists recommend getting your teeth cleaned at least twice a year4
How Will my Dentist Monitor my Gum Health?
Here is what you can expect when you go to the dentist with concerns about your gum health. Your dentist or dental hygienist will:
- Examine your gums for any signs of inflammation
- Use a tiny ruler to measure any pockets that have developed between your teeth. If your mouth is healthy, these pockets will usually be no deeper than one to three millimeters
- Ask about your medical/familial history to see if you are at a greater risk for developing gum disease.
If further action is needed, your dentist can:
- Take an x-ray of your mouth to see if you have suffered from any bone loss.
- Write you a referral to see a periodontist. Periodontists are experts on gum disease and can provide you with more treatment options than your dentist.5
Gingivitis is a common problem, but with good oral care and regular trips to the dentist you can keep your gums and teeth as healthy as possible.