Gingivitis

Definition

Gingivitis is inflammation of the gums.

Causes

Gingivitis is a form of periodontal disease. Periodontal disease is inflammation and infection that destroys the tissues that support the teeth. This can include the gums, the periodontal ligaments, and the tooth sockets.

Gingivitis is due to the long-term effects of plaque deposits on your teeth. Plaque is a sticky material made of bacteria, mucus, and food debris that builds up on the exposed parts of the teeth. It is also a major cause of tooth decay.

If you do not remove plaque, it turns into a hard deposit called tartar (or calculus) that becomes trapped at the base of the tooth. Plaque and tartar irritate and inflame the gums. Bacteria and the toxins they produce cause the gums to become infected, swollen, and tender.

These things raise your risk for gingivitis:

Many people have some amount of gingivitis. It often develops during puberty or early adulthood because of hormonal changes. It may last a long time or come back often, depending on the health of your teeth and gums.

Symptoms

Symptoms of gingivitis include:

Exams and Tests

Your dentist will examine your mouth and teeth and look for soft, swollen, reddish-purple gums.

The gums are most often painless or mildly tender when gingivitis is present.

Plaque and tartar may be seen at the base of the teeth.

Your dentist will use a probe to closely examine your gums to determine if you have gingivitis or periodontitis. Periodontitis is a serious infection in the gums.

Most of the time, more tests are not needed. However, dental x-rays may be done to see if the disease has spread to the supporting structures of the teeth.

Treatment

The goal of treatment is to reduce inflammation.

Your dentist or dental hygienist will clean your teeth. They may use different tools to loosen and remove deposits from your teeth.

Careful oral hygiene is necessary after professional teeth cleaning. Your dentist or hygienist will show you how to brush and floss properly.

In addition to brushing and flossing at home, your dentist may recommend:

Outlook (Prognosis)

Some people have discomfort when plaque and tartar are removed from their teeth. Bleeding and tenderness of the gums should lessen within 1 or 2 weeks after professional cleaning and with good oral care at home.

Warm salt water or antibacterial rinses can reduce gum swelling. Over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medicines may also be helpful.

You must maintain good oral care throughout your life to keep gum disease from returning.

Possible Complications

These complications can occur:

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Call your dentist if you have red, swollen gums, especially if you have not had a routine cleaning and exam in the last 6 months.

Prevention

Good oral hygiene is the best way to prevent gingivitis.

Brush your teeth at least twice a day. Floss at least once a day.

Your dentist may recommend brushing and flossing after every meal and at bedtime. Ask your dentist or dental hygienist to show you how to properly brush and floss your teeth.

Your dentist may suggest devices to help remove plaque deposits. These include special toothpicks, toothbrushes, water irrigation, or other devices. You still must brush and floss your teeth regularly.

Antiplaque or antitartar toothpastes or mouth rinses may also be recommended.

Many dentists recommend having teeth professionally cleaned at least every 6 months. You may not be able to remove all the plaque, even with careful brushing and flossing at home.


Review Date: 2/22/2016
Reviewed By: Michael Kapner, DDS, general and aesthetic dentistry, Norwalk Medical Center, Norwalk, CT. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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