If you’ve ever experienced irritation or inflammation of the gums, you may have had gingivitis. This early form of gum disease is an extremely common source of pain and discomfort in the mouth. While it is fairly common and usually not serious, it’s important to take steps to treat gingivitis, as it can lead to more severe oral health problems down the road.

Fortunately, the causes of gingivitis can be reversed rather easily if the condition is treated early and efforts are made to prevent the condition from reappearing in the future.

What Is Gingivitis?

Gingivitis is an inflammation of your gingiva, which is the part of your gums that sits around the base of your teeth. It’s considered an early form of destructive inflammatory processes called periodontal disease, or “gum disease,” and occurs when plaque and bacteria build up around your teeth, ultimately leading to an infection. If left untreated, gingivitis can lead to more serious problems, including periodontitis, which can be responsible for tooth loss.

There are many gingivitis symptoms that may indicate you have an infection. These can include:

  • Tender, puffy, or swollen gums
  • Discoloration of the gums, leading them to appear dusky or dark red
  • Gums that bleed easily during brushing and flossing
  • Bad breath or a foul taste in your mouth
  • Receding gums

Healthy gums typically appear pale pink, firm, and fitted tightly around your teeth. If this is not the case, or if you have any of the other symptoms listed above, you should consider seeing your dentist as soon as possible.

What Causes Gingivitis?

There are many causes of gingivitis, but the most common is poor oral hygiene. If you don’t take care of your teeth every day by brushing and flossing, you are more likely to have plaque form on your teeth. Plaque is a sticky film of bacteria that forms when bacteria interact with sugars and starches in your mouth, typically after you eat. If you don’t take the steps to remove plaque during your daily oral routine, it can harden and turn into tartar.

Tartar is much harder to remove than plaque and can make your teeth harder to clean. Since it harbors and encourages the growth of bacteria at the base of your gumline, it can cause irritation and inflammation of your gums, which leads to gingivitis. As your gums become swollen over time, you may experience cavities, tooth decay, bleeding, advanced periodontitis, or even tooth loss.

Other causes of gingivitis are less common but may include certain medications, smoking, pregnancy, diabetes, and genetic factors.

Treating Gingivitis

If you are experiencing the early stages of gingivitis, it is important to visit your dentist so the symptoms can be treated. Treating gingivitis early can help prevent more serious health problems such as advanced gum disease, irreversible tooth decay, and tooth loss.

Gingivitis treatment involves controlling the infection so it doesn’t get worse and healthy teeth and gum tissue can be restored. First, your dentist will likely recommend a professional cleaning. This involves removing tartar and plaque from your teeth, both above and below the gum line.

In addition, your dentist may also recommend specific at-home oral care practices, such as using an antibacterial toothpaste or mouthwash to fight plaque build-up. If the gingivitis has advanced far beyond preventative care, your dentist may recommend bone and tissue grafts to fix recessed gums, or flap surgery to remove stubborn tartar build-up from the deep pockets of your gums.

Preventing Gingivitis

It’s important to see your dentist so they can determine the cause and develop a treatment plan accordingly. Gingivitis is a reversible condition, but if it’s left untreated, it can progress to periodontitis, which is much more serious. With proper treatment and good oral hygiene habits, you can prevent gingivitis and keep your mouth healthy.

Preventing and getting rid of gingivitis should include the following measures:

  • Brush your teeth twice a day with a toothbrush that has soft bristles, especially after eating any sugary foods.
  • Floss or water floss daily to remove plaque between your teeth 
  • Visit your dentist regularly for professional cleanings and checkups
  • Avoid smoking and tobacco use

If your family has a history of gum disease, you have a larger risk of developing it, making regular dental checkups and proper oral hygiene that much more important.

Risk Factors for Gingivitis

There are a number of risk factors that can increase your chances of developing gingivitis. These can include:

    • Poor Oral Hygiene: If you don’t brush and floss your teeth regularly, plaque and tartar can build up on your teeth, causing irritation and inflammation of the gums.
    • Smoking: Tobacco use can contribute to gum disease by reducing the blood supply to the gums and promoting the growth of bacteria.
    • Diabetes: People with diabetes are more susceptible to infection. Diabetes can also make it more difficult to control gingivitis once it develops.
    • Hormonal Changes: Women are at an increased risk of gingivitis during pregnancy and menopause. Hormonal changes can make the gums more sensitive and prone to inflammation.
    • Certain Medications: Some medications, such as those used to treat epilepsy and high blood pressure, can cause gingivitis.
    • Crooked Teeth: Teeth that are crowded or misaligned are more difficult to keep clean, which can increase your risk for gingivitis.
    • Poor Nutrition: A diet lacking in vitamins and minerals can contribute to poor oral health.
  • Suppressed Immune Function

If you have any of these risk factors, it’s important to be extra diligent about oral hygiene and see your dentist regularly. Gingivitis is a preventable condition, so taking steps to reduce your risk can help you avoid problems down the road.

If you’re concerned about gingivitis, talk to your dentist. They can diagnose the condition and recommend the best course of treatment for you.