About 50% of Americans have gum disease. Gingivitis, inflammation of the gums, is also called periodontal disease. What causes it, what are the symptoms, why is it a problem, and how can you eliminate it?
What Causes Gingivitis
Gingivitis is caused by dental plaque, which is a sticky film of bacteria that forms on the teeth. This invisible bacterial coating on the teeth happens when the starches and sugars in our food intersect with the bacteria normally present in the mouth. The bottom line? Gingivitis is a result of poor dental hygiene: either you aren’t brushing often enough, aren’t brushing properly or you aren’t flossing.
Symptoms of Gingivitis
If your gums are red (rather than pink), if they are inflamed, swollen or bleed when you brush and/or floss, you have gingivitis.
Why is Gingivitis a Problem?
If the plaque (and eventual tartar) are not removed from the teeth through regular brushing, flossing and descaling, the gums gradually swell and bleed. Untreated gingivitis can lead to periodontitis, which is a serious gum infection. In periodontitis, the soft tissues and bone that support your teeth begin to weaken, leading to bone loss and, ultimately, tooth loss. Periodontitis also increases your risk for stroke, heart attack and other health problems.
How Can You Eliminate Gingivitis?
The best way to eliminate gingivitis is to avoid it, which is fairly easy to do if you brush your teeth after each meal and floss at least once a day. Although plaque forms within 24 hours, it’s initially easy to remove. Unfortunately, when it isn’t removed, it becomes a hard calculus called tartar at the gumline. The tartar makes it harder to remove plaque and enables the bacteria to grow like crazy. That’s why flossing, in particular, is so important. You must get between the teeth and down near the gums to remove the plaque at least once a day.
Once the plaque becomes tartar, the only way to remove it is to visit the dentist for scaling. Using a pointed curved dental instrument, the dental hygienist literally digs at the tartar to scrape it off the teeth. Although not that uncomfortable, it’s often embarrassing to our patients, and can be irritating to the surrounding gums. If the gums are inflamed, tartar scraping can cause mild bleeding.
The best solution to gingivitis is to avoid it in the first place. Regular, correct brushing and daily flossing goes a long way to avoid both cavities, gingivitis and—a small point, but important nonetheless—bad breath. If you haven’t been in to see your dentist lately, now’s the time to make that appointment. Yes, we know many people hate going to the dentist, but honestly, if you get in the habit of performing regular brushing and flossing, you won’t mind coming in to see us! In fact, you’ll be happy to come in and find that your teeth are in tip-top shape. If that’s not your current situation, there’s no time like the present to get your teeth cleaned, descaled and start on a new regimen of brushing and flossing!
To your health,
Dr. Jeffrey Shapiro
Manhattan Cosmetic Dentist