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Gingivitis: Symptoms and Causes in Northern Virginia

Prevalence of Gum Disease?

Gum disease affects nearly half of adults over the age of 30. Estimates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report that slightly over 47% of this population has gum disease. It also affects a significant portion of people 65 and older. A report from the CDC found that approximately 70% of adults 65 and older have periodontal disease in some form.

But what exactly is gingivitis and gum disease? Gingivitis is considered the first stage of gum disease, which is also known as periodontal disease. It’s an inflammatory condition that causes swelling and inflammation of the gum tissue, which can lead to red-colored gums that might bleed while brushing and flossing. Gingivitis is usually painless, but it can progress to periodontitis if left untreated. This is an advanced stage of gum disease that puts you at risk for tooth loss if left unresolved.

What Are the Common Symptoms of Gingivitis?

Knowing what healthy gums should look like is very important because it’s possible to have gingivitis without noticing any symptoms. Healthy gums are firmly attached to your teeth and are typically pink in color. So, if your gums are beginning to look red or are swollen and puffy, you might have gingivitis. These symptoms are also warning signs of gum disease:

  • Gums that are painful or tender when touched
  • Persistent bad breath
  • Gums that bleed while flossing or brushing
  • Increased tooth sensitivity
  • Loose teeth
  • Receding gums
  • Development of spaces in between teeth

What Are the Causes of Gum Disease?

The accumulation of plaque around the teeth is the main cause of gingivitis. Plaque is a sticky film made mostly of bacteria. Our mouths are also full of bacteria, and when these bacteria interact with the starches and sugars found in most foods, plaque begins to form on teeth. This sticky coating is constantly forming on our teeth, but it can be removed daily by engaging in good oral hygiene habits and brushing and flossing. If left on teeth, plaque can cause irritation and inflammation of the gum tissue, causing symptoms of gingivitis.

Plaque can also harden into a tough substance called tartar, or calculus, if not removed by brushing and flossing. Only your dentist or dental hygienist can remove tartar, which cannot be removed by brushing or flossing. If plaque and tartar continue to accumulate on your teeth, bacteria and toxins will further irritate the gums. Over time, periodontitis, an infection of the tissue and bone surrounding your teeth, can develop. Periodontitis can cause tooth loss if left untreated.

Are You at Risk for Gum Disease?

Anyone can develop gingivitis, although there are specific things that can increase your risk. In addition to not brushing and flossing each day, these risk factors include:

  • Frequent smoking or chewing tobacco
  • Dry mouth
  • Changes in hormone levels, including during menstruation, pregnancy, and menopause
  • Certain chronic illnesses, such as diabetes, HIV/AIDS, leukemia, or other types of cancer
  • Taking certain medications, including anticonvulsants, cancer treatments, birth control pills, and calcium channel blockers
  • Poor eating habits, including a diet low in vitamin C
  • Ill-fitting dental appliances, such as bridges or dentures
  • Crooked teeth that are hard to clean
  • A family history of gingivitis
  • Being 65 and older

How Can Gum Disease Your Health?

Periodontitis can lead to tooth loss, but studies suggest that gum disease may also play a large role in the development of certain health problems. For some time, it was thought that bacteria was the causative agent, recent research by the American Academy of Periodontology (AAP) has revealed that inflammation is the likely cause. The Mayo Clinic and the AAP has found an association between periodontal disease and these health concerns:

  • Cancer
  • Respiratory disease
  • Stroke
  • Coronary artery disease
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Osteoporosis
  • Problems controlling blood sugar levels

Can Gum Disease Be Prevented?

Good oral hygiene is the best way to prevent gum disease and protect the health of your teeth and gums. At home, you can floss daily and brush your teeth twice daily, usually in the morning and again at nighttime. Brushing and flossing daily helps remove bacteria and food particles that can lead to the accumulation of plaque. Some types of mouthwash can also inhibit the development of plaque. You can also practice healthy habits by eating a healthy diet and not smoking or using tobacco products.

Seeing your dentist and dental hygienist regularly can also prevent gum disease. Professional cleanings can remove plaque and tartar between teeth and along the gum line. Most patients require professional cleanings and exams about every six months. However, if you have certain risk factors, such as smoking or dry mouth, you may need to see your dentist more often.

How to Treat Gingivitis

If caught early enough, gingivitis can be treated with a professional cleaning by your dentist or hygienist. When treated early, gingivitis is reversible, especially when a professional cleaning is followed with diligent oral health habits at home.

If gingivitis progresses, you can develop periodontitis, which is a serious form of gum disease. Scaling and root planing, a type of deep-cleaning treatment, is usually recommended if you have periodontitis. Scaling removes plaque, tartar, and bacteria both above and below the gum line while planing smoothes the rough spots on the roots of teeth. This helps the gum tissue firmly reattach to teeth and prevents further growth of bacteria under the gum line. Following a scaling and root planing, your dentist will schedule several follow-up visits and give instructions on brushing and flossing at home.

If you’re concerned about gingivitis and want to learn more about how you can protect your teeth and gums, get in touch with us today to schedule your visit to our office. In addition to professional cleanings, our dentists can provide you with the tools needed to properly care for your teeth at home.

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