Gingivitis (Gum Disease)
Gingivitis is more commonly called gum disease (also known as periodontal 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. Gingivitis is generally not painful but if not treated early it will result in more serious gum disease (periodontitis) which can cause tooth loss. Gum problems can begin in adolescent years and continue into adulthood.
Periodontitis and general poor oral health can have a detrimental effect on your overall health. Periodontal 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 if periodontal disease is a cause of any of these conditions or why people with periodontal disease have higher incidences of these health problems.
Poor oral hygiene is the main cause of gingivitis as it increases formation of plaque. Plaque is a “furry” coating that forms on tooth; it can be colourless or sometimes a pale-yellow colour. 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 is 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 (I will discuss dry mouth a separate article on www.whelehans.ieor 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.
An dental appointment is important if you notice some of these symptoms; a dentist can quickly diagnose gingivitis and advise on the just course of action. Prompt treatment will clear gingivitis symptoms and prevent development of more serious gum disease and tooth loss. Treatment requires professional care through your dentist followed by improved regular oral hygiene practice at home.
What your dentist will do
After checking your teeth, your dentist (or dental hygienist) will thoroughly clean to remove all plaque and tartar. Your dentist 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. Teeth that are misaligned, crowns that are poorly fitting, bridges or fillings can irritate gums and prevent removal of plaque in certain areas by flossing and brushing; thus your dentist may need to fix some of these issues.
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.
More about flossing
Flossing before brushing is important as it clears bits of food and bacteria between teeth that a toothbrush cannot reach. It is reckoned that 80% of people don’t floss. Brushing only reaches 65% of the surface area of your teeth; flossing is needed to reach the other 35%. If you have never flossed before, your teeth may bleed slightly during the first few times, however this bleeding will stop after a few times as your gums get used to flossing. Ask your dentist or hygienist how you should floss properly. If you start with a consistent daily oral hygiene routine, gums should return to a healthy pink colour within a few weeks.
Dental Advice event
Whelehans are holding a dental advice event on Friday October 3rdwhere you will be able to get expert advice on dental hygiene, teeth whitening and dry mouth from an expert from Swordfish Medical. Call in for free expert dental advice and there will be great offers on the day.
Disclaimer: Information in this article is general; consult with your healthcare professional before making any changes recommended.
This article is shortened. For more detailed information, logon to www.whelehans.ie or contact Whelehans at 044 93 34591 or firstname.lastname@example.org and we will forward you a more detailed copy for free
By Eamonn Brady MPSI, pharmacist and owner of Whelehans Pharmacy, 38 Pearse St, Mullingar