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What is gingivitis, what causes it, and what can I do if I have gingivitis?

Gingivitis sounds scary, but it's a common, mild, and reversible form of gum disease. Take action and you'll take control of it in no time.

When bacteria buildup around the gum line and cause an infection that irritates your gums and makes them red, swell, and bleed… well, that's gingivitis. If you have, or are worried you have, gingivitis don't despair! You have the power to reverse this mild form of periodontal disease (gum disease). Read ahead and we'll also share tips on how to prevent it in the future.

Dental experts agree that taking care of your gums is critical to having good oral health and good overall health. That's why addressing gingivitis quickly stops periodontal disease in its tracks and can promote your overall well being.

What causes gingivitis?

Your mouth is full of bacteria. Some of it is good bacteria needed for a balanced microbiome, and others are "bad" bacteria that cause things like cavities, bad breath, and gingivitis. When these bacteria accumulate along the base of your teeth they create plaque and tartar which infect and irritate your gums. 

Here's how that happens:

  1. Each day, plaque forms on your teeth. This is a fast-forming, invisible, sticky film made from bacteria. Brushing and flossing consistently helps keep plaque under control. 
  2. If plaque stays on your teeth too long it hardens into tartar which then collects more bacteria.
  3. Tartar continues to build around your gums, eventually infecting them and causing gingivitis
  4. As tartar builds up, it will push away your gums causing them to recede.

Seems plaque is enemy number one. Let's look into what contributes to plaque.

Where does plaque come from? 

There are several things that can make your mouth a better environment for plaque, and put you at risk for developing gingivitis: 

  • Poor oral hygiene. If regular brushing and flossing isn't part of your routine, you're at higher risk for gingivitis because your oral microbiome becomes more acidic. Brushing and flossing is key to removing the bacteria responsible for gingivitis. If you often skip or forget to brush or floss the bacteria gets a chance to accumulate and form plaque.
  • Improper brushing technique. Even if you brush twice a day like clockwork, if you don't use the proper brushing technique you can miss bacteria in the tricky contours around the gum line.
  • Stress. Your immune system is affected by your stress level, and too much stress can weaken your immune system which hurts your ability to fight infections - like gingivitis.
  • Hormonal changes. Hello puberty, pregnancy, hormone therapy, menstruation, and menopause. Like the rest of your body, your gums experience a change during from these hormones and can make it easier to accumulate plaque.
  • Medications. Certain medications, especially those that cause dry mouth, can increase the bacteria in your mouth.
  • Crowded teeth. Teeth with difficult-to-reach spaces are more likely to trap and hide bacteria from your toothbrush.
  • Smoking and tobacco use. Not much good comes from smoking and tobacco use, so it's no surprise it contributes to plaque and tartar.

What does gingivitis look like?

If you have gingivitis your gums might be red, puffy, and even bleed. But gingivitis isn't always painful, so many people with gingivitis don't realize they have an issue. That's why 75% of Americans will get gingivitis at some point in their life.

"Looking at a patient in the chair, I look for things like deeper gum pockets, irritated gums, puffiness, and excessive bleeding when I'm cleaning to determine if a patient might have gingivitis." says Iman Zayed, RDH about what gingivitis looks like from the clinical perspective. 

Is gingivitis reversible?

With gum disease, early action is critical. Gingivitis is reversible if you catch it early and go to your dentist for a checkup and cleaning. If you don’t treat gingivitis it will turn into periodontitis (gum disease). Periodontitis is more serious because it permanently damages the gums and jaw that help keep your teeth safely anchored in your mouth.

Even if you make it in for a cleaning before things get bad, gingivitis can come back. But you do have the power to control it between office visits. 

How do I prevent gingivitis?

Visiting your dentist and getting cleanings regularly is another key element to preventing gingivitis. If you have risk factors that increase your chance of developing gingivitis (like being pregnant) your dentist might be able to get you in for an extra cleaning to support your oral health.

When it comes down to it, gingivitis prevention really starts at home with a good oral hygiene routine. That means having the right tools and techniques, and sticking with the routine daily. If you're curious to learn more about how you can take your oral hygiene routine to the next level, order your starter kit and find out what your mouth needs to keep plaque, tartar, and gingivitis away.

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