When patients go to the dentist, either for their routine cleanings or for other problems with their teeth, they worry about cavities. No one wants to have tooth decay or to need fillings or dental crowns. Gum disease does not cause as much anxiety, but if left untreated it can progress from gingivitis to tooth loss.
What Is Gingivitis?
Gingivitis is the early stage of gum disease. Healthy gums are pale pink, firm, and tightly surround the base of the teeth. When bacteria in the mouth is not checked by good oral health habits, plaque deposits can harden into tartar under the gumline. Tartar attracts more bacteria, and the gums get inflamed. Gingivitis is the “irritation, redness and swelling (inflammation) of your gingiva, the part of your gums around the base of your teeth.”
Gingivitis typically doesn’t hurt. Patients won’t notice it unless they get a stiff new toothbrush or decide to floss their teeth, and then they notice their gums bleeding. When gum irritation is in its early stages, it can easily be resolved by better brushing and flossing habits. After a week or two of flossing, the redness and the bleeding will stop. If they do not, you should let your dentist know. Patients who are pregnant may notice that their gums are swollen and bleed more too. This is normal, but put your best oral hygiene habits to work because pregnant women are more at risk for cavities.
If gingivitis is not treated, the next stage of gum disease is periodontitis which is much more serious. Symptoms of more advanced gum disease include:
- Bad breath
- Bad taste in mouth
- Receding gums
- Sore gums
- Sensitive teeth
- Pain when chewing
- Loose teeth
- A change in jaw or tooth alignment
Periodontitis, as an infection of the gums, prevents them from doing their job which is to keep the teeth firmly held to the jaw. This can lead to tooth loss and the destruction of the underlying bone as well as other general health problems.
Who Is at Risk for Gum Disease?
Anyone who doesn’t regularly brush and floss their teeth is at risk for gum disease. Additional risk factors include smoking, diabetes, hormonal changes in women such as pregnancy and menopause, certain medications, illnesses like leukemia or HIV, and old age.
The treatment for anyone with gum disease is removing that plaque and tartar with better oral hygiene. For people who have health complications, that may mean brushing after every meal and more dental checkups. Healthy eating choices and monitoring health complications like diabetes will also help keep gum disease at bay. Dental x-rays can also be used to determine if bone loss has occurred.
If you have concerns about gingivitis or gum disease, please talk them over with your dentist during your next routine check up. If you have any of the above listed symptoms of periodontitis, please schedule an appointment with your dentist right away. You do not want your gum disease to progress any further.