Gingivitis (Gum Disease)
Gingivitis is more commonly called gum disease and is caused by a build-up of bacteria in the gums. It causes gum irritation, red swollen gums, and bleeding. Gingivitis can be mild and many are not aware they have the condition and only get treatment when it is too late (ie) gum and dental damage is evident.
Gum disease can have a detrimental effect on your overall health. Gum disease is associated with more risk of heart attack, stroke and lung disease. In women, it is linked to premature birth or low birth weight babies. It is not fully understood why.
Poor oral hygiene is the main cause of gingivitis as it increases formation of plaque. Plaque is a “furry” coating that forms on tooth. Plaque is a sticky film of bacteria that forms on teeth due to starches and sugars reacting with bacteria found in the mouth. Plague requires removal daily (via brushing and flossing) as it reforms quickly again within 24 hours after last removal. If not removed, the bacteria in plaque forms acid which damage enamel and cause tooth decay and when it develops under the gums on the tooth’s root it can lead to bone damage and eventual tooth loosening and loss.
While poor oral hygiene is the most common cause of gingivitis, other factors that increase risk include smoking, being diabetic, increasing age, dry mouth (see separate article on dry mouth at www.whelehans.ie or ask for a free copy in Whelehans), hormonal changes (due to pregnancy, menstrual cycle or taking the contraceptive pill), poor diet, substance misuse (eg. alcohol or illegal drugs) and poorly fitting dentures.
Healthy gums will be firm and a pale pink colour. Signs of gingivitis include soft, puffy, tender, dark red and easy bleeding gums (may be seen as red or pink colour on your toothbrush or floss). Other signs include swollen gums, receding gums and bad breath. A dental appointment is important if you notice some of these symptoms; a dentist can quickly diagnose gingivitis and advice on the just course of action.
What your dentist will do
After checking your teeth, your dentist (or dental hygienist) will thoroughly clean to remove all plaque and tartar. They will remove all plaque and tartar using a procedure called scaling. Scaling may be temporarily be uncomfortable, especially as gums are sensitive (which is often the case with gingivitis) or there is excessive plaque and tartar build-up. Your dentist may fix crowns or fillings (dental restorations) that make brushing and flossing in certain areas difficult. Your dentist will advise on effective brushing and flossing techniques at home. Regular professional check-ups and cleaning from your dentist is important.
What to do
Gingivitis will clear up with a thorough professional cleaning by your dentist or hygienist and if the person then practices good oral hygiene by brushing and flossing. There are steps a person can take to prevent and reverse gingivitis. These include regular professional dental cleanings (generally recommended as every 6 months). A soft toothbrush is best if you have gum problems and aim to replace it every three or four months to ensure maximum cleaning capacity. Consider the use of an electric toothbrush as it may be better for removal plaque and tartar. It is important to brush teeth twice daily or better again, after every meal or snack. Floss at least once daily (this is where many people fall down and it is very important). Use an antiseptic mouthwash if your dentist advises. A thorough cleaning using a toothbrush and floss will take three to five minutes if done properly. Check www.whelehans.ie for information on flossing.
This article is shortened to fit within Newspaper space limits. More detailed information and leaflets is available in Whelehans