Gingivitis – which is when the gums become inflamed – is the first stage of gum disease. It’s also the easiest symptom to treat. Gingivitis is primarily caused by plaque – the film of bacteria that forms around the teeth and gums and is removed by brushing.
If oral hygiene slips and plaque is not taken care of, it produces toxins that irritate gum tissue and cause gingivitis. The damage is reversible this early in gum disease as the connective tissue holding teeth in place isn’t affected. If left to fester however, then gingivitis becomes periodontitis which permanently damages teeth and the jaw.
Varieties of Gingivitis
Gingivitis is split into two main categories:
- Dental Plaque-Induced Gingival Disease – this is caused by plaque, medications, malnutrition, and other systemic factors
- Non-Plaque Induced Gingival Lesions – this is caused by specific bacteria, viruses, or fungi. IT may also be the result of systemic conditions such as illnesses and allergic reactions, genetic factors, wounds, or as a reaction to foreign bodies like dentures. There are also cases where there is no definitive cause.
Causes of Gingivitis
Gingivitis is commonly caused by bad oral hygiene, allowing for the formation of plaque. Plaque inflames gum tissue around it. Here’s how plaque causes gingivitis:
Plaque begins to form on the teeth
Plaque is the invisible, sticky film that clings to teeth in response to the starches and sugars in food interacting with the bacteria in the mouth. Plaque must be removed regularly because of how quickly it forms.
Plaque becomes tartar
Plaque left on the teeth hardens under the gumline and becomes tartar. This tartar continues collecting bacteria and makes plaque harder to remove. It also protects bacteria and irritates the gums more. You may need the help of a dentist to remove this tartar.
Gingiva is inflamed, causing gingivitis
The longer plaque and tartar remains on teeth, the more the gingiva is irritated. This is the part of your gum around teeth. It becomes inflamed and leads to swollen and bleeding gums. It can also cause tooth decay. Gingivitis can become periodontitis if left unchecked, which permanently damages teeth and leads to tooth loss.
When gums are healthy they are pale pink and firmly fit around teeth. The signs and symptoms of gingivitis are:
- Swollen/puffy gums
- Dark red gums
- Gums bleeding during brushing and flossing
- Having bad breath or a bad taste in the mouth
- Receding gums
- Tender gums
Gingivitis Risk Factors
Gingivitis is a common disease that anyone can get. There are several risk factors for gingivitis including:
- Bad oral health habits
- Old age
- Smoking and chewing tobacco
- Dry mouth
- Bad nutrition – including vitamin C deficiencies
- Low quality dental restorations and crooked teeth that make it difficult to brush and clean them
- Health conditions that reduce immunity such as leukemia, cancer treatments, and HIV/AIDS
- Certain drugs such as phenytoin (Phenytek/Dilantin) for reducing seizures, and certain calcium channel blockers for angina and high blood pressure
- Hormonal changes, such as menstruation, pregnancy, and using birth control pills
- Genetic factors – experts believe people with parents who suffered from gingivitis are more at risk of developing it themselves. This is believed to be caused by the kinds of bacteria we are exposed to during early life
- Medical conditions like fungal and viral infections
Gingivitis Treatment Options
Gingivitis should be treated as soon as possible to improve your chances of making a full recovery. If left to fester, gingivitis causes major damage to teeth and leads to other health conditions. Visit your doctor if you notice:
- Tooth ache
- Bad breath
- Bleeding gums
- Swollen and inflamed gums
Gingivitis Care Through Dental Professionals
Dental professionals can remove plaque and tartar through scaling. Patients may be uncomfortable during the scaling process, especially in cases with sensitive gums or severe tartar build-up. Dental professionals will explain to their patients how important proper oral hygiene is, as well as how to effectively brush and floss teeth.
They may follow up with patients periodically, cleaning teeth as frequently as necessary. Fixing teeth is another important step as it allows for proper oral hygiene. Having dental issues such as bad crowns and crooked teeth make it harder to remove plaque and tartar and they cause gum irritation.
Treating Gingivitis With Home Remedies
Before treating gingivitis with home remedies it’s important to ensure that you practice good oral health habits. If you aren’t properly caring for your gums and teeth then these home remedies will be ineffective at clearing up gingivitis.
A study from 2016 showed using salt water to rinse out the mouth was an effective way to heal gum inflammation caused by gingivitis. Salt is a natural disinfectant able to help the body heal itself. Salt water can also sooth inflamed gums, ease pain, remove food particles from teeth, remove bacteria, and relieve bad breath.
If you don’t get relief with salt water, then you should consider advanced mouthwash options. Remember that mouthwash should never be swallowed. Swish it around your mouth and then spit it out. While there are mouthwashes designed specifically for gingivitis, you should consider making your own homemade mouthwash too.
Oil pulling is when you swish oil around the mouth or 20-30 minutes to eliminate bacteria and toxins and improve oral health. Oil pulling is becoming more popular in the west, while it has been a part of Ayurvedic medication for thousands of years now.
If you fail to find relief with mouthwash, then a topical cream or gel may prove useful.
How Long does Treating Gingivitis Take?
Results should be visible within a few days, but it could take longer for the symptoms to disappear entirely. Gingivitis will usually take between 10 and 14 days to fully clear up, but it may take longer in more serious cases.
Be better about your oral hygiene to prevent gingivitis from reoccurring. If you suffer from the medical conditions that make you more susceptible to gingivitis then talk to your dentist and they can keep track of any changes in the symptoms.
Leaving gingivitis untreated can lead to gum disease that spreads to the tissue and bone underneath gums – a condition known as periodontitis. This condition is much more serious than gingivitis and can cause tooth loss.
Chronic inflammation of the gingiva has been connected to systemic diseases such as diabetes, respiratory disease, coronary artery disease, rheumatoid arthritis, and strokes. Some research has suggested that the bacteria that cause periodontitis may enter the bloodstream through the damaged gum tissue, potentially damaging vital organs such as the heart and lungs. More studies are needed to confirm this link however.
Necrotizing Ulcerative Gingivitis (NUG) – also called Trench Mouth – is a very severe form of gingivitis that causes painful, bleeding gums as well as ulcerations. Trench mouth is rarer in developed nations, though it remains common in developing countries with poor living conditions and nutrition.
Maintain Good Oral Hygiene
This means brushing your teeth twice a day for two minutes – when you wake up and before you go to bed – and flossing once a day. It’s best to brush after each meal and snack as dentists recommend. Flossing before brushing gets rid of any loose pieces of food or bacteria.
Visit the Dentist Regularly
Visit your dentist once every six to twelve months for cleanings. If you are more at risk of periodontitis – such as if are a smoker, have dry mouth, or are on certain medications – then you may need to have your teeth professionally cleaned more often. Regular dental X-rays help to identify diseases that your dentist cannot see. They also make it easier to monitor your dental health and detect changes.
Good Health Practices
It’s a good idea to quit smoking as tobacco is a major risk factor for developing periodontitis. Smokers are over seven times as likely to get gum disease compared to non-smokers. Smoking also reduces the effectiveness of certain treatments.
Reduce stress levels as stress makes the immune system less effective at fighting off infections.
Maintaining a well-balanced diet helps as well. Eating properly gives your immune system the tools to fight against infection. Eating foods rich in antioxidants, such as vitamin E (vegetable oil, leafy green vegetables, and nuts) and vitamin C (citrus fruits, potatoes, and broccoli) helps your body to repair damaged tissues. Managing blood sugar levels properly, especially if you have diabetes, is also important for maintaining good gum health.