Gingivitis, also generally called gum disease or periodontal disease, describes the events that begin with bacterial growth in your mouth and mayend - if not properly treated - with tooth loss due to destruction of the tissue that surrounds your teeth.
What's the Difference Between Gingivitis and Periodontitis?
Gingivitis (gum inflammation) usually precedes periodontitis (gum disease). However, it is important to know that not all gingivitis progresses to periodontitis.
In the early stage of gingivitis, bacteria in plaque build up, causes the gums to become inflamed (red and swollen) and often easily bleed during tooth brushing. Although the gums may be irritated, the teeth are still firmly planted in their sockets. No irreversible bone or other tissue damage has occurred at this stage.
When gingivitis is left untreated, it can advance to periodontitis. In a person with periodontitis, the inner layer of the gum and bone pull away from the teeth and form pockets. These small spaces between teeth and gums collect debris and can become infected. The body's immune system fights the bacteria as the plaque spreads and grows below the gum line.
Toxins or poisons - produced by the bacteria in plaque as well as the body's "good" enzymes involved in fighting infections - start to break down the bone and connective tissue that hold teeth in place. As the disease progresses, the pockets deepen and more gum tissue and bone are destroyed. When this happens, teeth are no longer anchored in place, they become loose and tooth loss occurs. Gum disease, in fact, is the leading cause of tooth loss in adults.
Gum disease may progress painlessly, producing few obvious signs, even in the late stages of the disease. Although the symptoms of periodontal disease often are subtle, the condition is not entirely without warning signs. Certain symptoms may point to some form of the disease.
The symptoms of gum disease include:
- Gums that bleed during and after tooth brushing.
- Red, swollen, or tender gums.
- Persistent bad breath or bad taste in the mouth.
- Receding gums.
- Formation of deep pockets between teeth and gums.
- Loose or shifting teeth.
- Changes in the way teeth fit together upon biting down, or in the fit of partial dentures.
Even if you don't notice any symptoms, you may still have some degree of gum disease. In some people, gum disease may affect only certain teeth, such as the molars. Only a dentist or a periodontist can recognize and determine the progression of gum disease.
Plaque is the primary cause of gum disease. However, other factors can contribute to periodontal disease as well.
Hormonal changes, such as those occurring during pregnancy,puberty, menopause, and monthly menstruation, make gums more sensitive, which makes it easier for gingivitis to develop.
Illnesses may affect the condition of your gums. This includes diseases such as cancer or HIV that interfere with the immune system. Because diabetes affects the body's ability to use blood sugar, patients with this disease are at higher risk of developing infections, including periodontal disease.
Medications can affect oral health because some lessen the flow of saliva, which has a protective effect on teeth and gums. Some drugs, such as the anticonvulsant medication Dilantin and the anti-angina drugProcardia and Adalat, can cause abnormal growth of gum tissue.
Bad habits such as smoking, make it harder for gum tissue to repair itself.
Poor oral hygiene habits such as not brushing and flossing on a daily basis, make it easier for gingivitis to develop.
Family history of dental disease can be a contributing factor for the development of gingivitis.
The goals of gum disease treatment are to promote reattachment of healthy gums to teeth; reduce swelling, the depth of pockets, and the risk of infection; and to stop disease progression. Treatment options depend on the stage of disease, how you may have responded to earlier treatments, and your overall health.
Options range from nonsurgical therapies that control bacterial growth to surgery to restore supportive tissues.
Self-Care at Home
The best home care for gingivitis is prevention.
- Regular dental visits to remove plaque build-up are necessary to combat gingivitis.
- Once a dentist removes plaque, regular brushing and flossing will minimize plaque formation. Even with good dental hygiene, plaque will begin to accumulate again.
Removing the source of the infection is primarily how simple gingivitis is treated.
- By brushing teeth regularly with a toothbrush and fluoride toothpaste approved by dentists, plaque build-up can be kept to a minimum.
- Flossing is another means of removing plaque in between teeth and other areas hard to reach.
- Regular check-ups with a dentist are also important. A dentist is able to remove plaque that is too dense to be removed by a toothbrush or dental floss.
- Severe gingivitis may require antibiotics and consultation with a physician. Antibiotics are medications used to help the body's immune system fight bacterial infection and have been shown to reduce plaque.
By reducing plaque, bacteria can be kept to a level manageable by the human immune system. Taking antibiotics is not without risks and should only be done after consultation with a dentist or doctor.