Tackling Gingivitis - Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis and Prevention

Tackling Gingivitis

Dr.I Vijayalakshmi Murthy profile Authored by Dr.I Vijayalakshmi Murthy on 1 Jun 2015 - 15:48.


Gingivitis is a mild form of gum disease. It is a common disease which causes redness, irritation and inflammation of the gums; and occasionally bleeding from the gums. Most people with this disease are unaware of its presence due to its mild condition and lack of pain. But it is very important to take it seriously and treat it early, as gingivitis can lead to a serious gum condition called periodontitis which further leads to tooth loss.

Gingivitis is most commonly caused due to poor oral hygiene. Good oral habits such as flossing daily, brushing twice daily, rinsing the mouth after each meal, cleaning the tongue daily and getting regular dental checkups can help in preventing gingivitis.

Poor oral hygiene is the most common cause of gingivitis as it encourages the formation of plaque. Plaque is a sticky and invisible film composed mainly of bacteria. It forms on teeth when sugars and starches present in food interact with the bacteria that are normally present in the mouth.

Plaque that remains on the teeth for more than two to three days can harden to form tartar. Tartar is difficult to remove with regular brushing and flossing; only professional dental cleaning can remove it.

Gums get irritated when plaque and tartar remain on the teeth for a long period of time. The gums respond to the irritation by swelling up and bleed easily. Plaque and tartar can cause tooth decay which accumulates more bacteria and leads to worsening of the gum disease.

Healthy gums are pale, pink and firm. Puffy, dusky red and bleeding gums may indicate gingivitis. Usually gingivitis is not painful and is easily neglected or ignored. The symptoms of gingivitis include:

  • Swollen gums
  • Receding gums
  • Puffy, soft gums
  • Gums which bleed easily while brushing or flossing or chewing
  • Change in color of gums
  • Bad breath

The diagnosis is done by a dentist based on the symptoms. A clinical examination of the teeth is done to check for deposits of plaque and tartar; and for the presence of cavities that act as reservoirs for bacteria. Gums are checked for puffiness, redness and signs of bleeding.

In the absence of large deposits of plaque or tartar, there might be a systemic cause for gingivitis; and your dentist may recommend a medical evaluation to detect the underlying cause for gingivitis.

Left untreated, gingivitis can become severe and spreads to the underlying tissues and jaw bones. This condition is called periodontitis and can lead to tooth loss.

Poor oral health and periodontitis also affect the overall health of the person. Apart from the difficulty in chewing food, periodontitis increases the risk of cardio vascular diseases. Studies and research have shown that periodontitis and the oral bacteria causing periodontitis are associated with increased risk of:

·         Heart attack

·         Stroke

·         Low birth weight babies  or pre-mature births

·         Inflammation of prostate gland

Risk factors:

Factors which increase the risk of gingivitis include:

  • Poor oral health
  • Diabetes mellitus
  • Use of Tobacco and its products
  • Ageing Process
  • Systemic fungal and viral infections
  • Medications such as phenytoin and nifedipine
  • Dry mouth
  • Reduced immunity due to leukemia, HIV infection or other diseases
  • Poor nutrition
  • Hormonal changes such as during pregnancy or menstrual cycle
  • Drug abuse
  • Ill fitting dentures and dental restorations

Early treatment of gingivitis helps in reversing the symptoms and prevents its progress to a more serious or severe gum disease and tooth loss. Effective treatment of gingivitis requires professional care which has to be followed with regular oral hygiene maintenance at home.

Professional care for gingivitis includes:

  • An initial checkup and dental cleaning to remove plaque and tartar.
  • Regular checkups and cleaning at least once in six months.
  • Follow correct techniques of brushing, flossing, rinsing and tongue cleaning daily.
  • Replace ill-fitting dental crowns, fillings or other dental restorations which make cleaning difficult.
  • Occasionally, when there is extensive buildup of plaque and tartar, the initial scaling might seem uncomfortable if the gums are sensitive; but cleaning can still be done painlessly with the use of local numbing agents on the gums.

Usually after a thorough professional cleaning, gingivitis clears up as long as good oral hygiene is maintained. Regular dental checkups are needed to prevent recurrence.

The best way to prevent gingivitis is to plan a proper dental hygiene routine which should begin from early childhood and should be practiced throughout life. Flossing should be done before brushing so that the food particles and bacteria loosen up and are easily removed while brushing.

Visit the dentist regularly at least twice a year for professional cleanings. People with risk factors for gingivitis may require dental cleanings more often.


*Disclaimer This is not medical advice. The content is for educational purposes only. Please contact your doctor for any health care issues.