Many people ignore the early signs of gum disease, known as gingivitis, simply because they do not know what gingivitis is. Gingivitis is a reversible form of gum disease. Bacteria from dental plaque invade the area below your gum line, known as the sulcus or periodontal pocket, causing gingivitis to develop.
Because gingivitis can be mild, you may not be aware that you have the condition. The early warning signs of gingivitis are often mistaken as normal occurrences one should expect when it comes to the mouth. These are signs and symptoms of gingivitis and they ARE NOT normal:
The most common cause of gingivitis is poor oral hygiene that encourages plaque to form. Plaque is a sticky film composed mainly of bacteria – when in contact with sugars plaque causes dental decay. Brushing your teeth at least twice a day and flossing each day removes plaque. Plaque requires daily removal because it re-forms quickly, usually within 24 hours.
Plaque that stays on your teeth longer than two or three days can harden under your gum line into tartar (calculus). Tartar can also develop resulting from excess mineral content in your saliva. Tartar makes plaque more difficult to remove and creates a protective shield for bacteria. You usually can’t get rid of tartar by brushing and flossing — it needs to be removed by your hygienist. Other factors in gingivitis include: crooked teeth, medications, dry mouth, diabetes, pregnancy, poor nutrition, etc.
If Gingivitis Doesn’t Hurt, Why Should I Care?
When gingivitis is left untreated, it can advance to periodontitis, an irreversible form of gum disease. In periodontitis, the inner layer of the gum and bone pull away from the teeth and form pockets. These small spaces between teeth and gums collect debris and can become infected. The body’s immune system fights the bacteria as the plaque spreads and grows below the gum line. Toxins or poisons — produced by the bacteria in plaque as well as the body’s “good” enzymes involved in fighting infections — start to break down the bone and connective tissue that hold teeth in place. As the disease progresses, the pockets deepen and more gum tissue and bone are destroyed. When this happens, teeth are no longer anchored in place, they become loose, and tooth loss occurs. Gum disease is the leading cause of tooth loss in adults.
How Is Gingivitis Treated?
For some people with early or minimal gingivitis and adequate home care, your periodic professional cleaning may be enough to get you back on track. Our Dental Fitness Program was created to help you measure the percentage of bleeding and plaque in your mouth at each visit, so you can learn how to brush well enough to prevent gingivitis – a level of 90% plaque and 90% bleeding free.
However in other cases, we need to come up with another plan to get the gum inflammation under control. This can include a couple of visits to remove the excess build-up and to reinforce proper home care; sometimes we also recommend a prescribed antibacterial mouth rinse known as chlorhexidine gluconate. Just like people don’t learn the piano or a foreign language by visiting a teacher once every six months, some people with gingivitis benefit from more frequent visits until their home care is at a level that they are controlling their gingivitis on their own.