Gingivitis happens when plaque, or a sticky film of bacteria, builds up around the base of your teeth (or gingiva) and causes red, swollen gums. It’s also the first stage of gum disease. If left untreated, these gingivitis symptoms can lead to a more serious form of gum disease called periodontitis.
Let’s take a closer look at these symptoms, what causes them, and how to prevent gingivitis as you make your way to a happier, healthier smile.
Research shows that gum disease affects nearly half of all adults over 30 years old. This makes gingivitis a common condition, with symptoms that include:
- red, swollen, or tender gums
- bleeding while brushing or flossing
- bad breath or a bad taste in your mouth
- gums that pull away from your teeth
- changes in your bite
If you are experiencing these symptoms, know that it’s not too late to get treatment. In fact, the sooner you notice them, the better. Your dentist in Little Rock will diagnose you and get you started on a gingivitis treatment for stronger, longer-lasting oral health.
What causes gingivitis?
Plaque buildup is the primary cause of gingivitis symptoms. Although it’s normal to have bacteria in your mouth, some of that bacteria attaches itself to your teeth when you don’t brush or floss often enough. When it attaches, it appears as a sticky, thin film that’s mostly invisible but can turn yellow if it hardens into tartar. The longer this plaque is left on your teeth, the higher your risk of developing gingivitis.
Plaque buildup is not the only cause for gingivitis symptoms, though. There are some other things that can increase your chance of getting it, which include:
- hormone changes
- a family history of gum disease
- smoking or chewing tobacco
- taking medications (such as Dilantin) that can reduce your saliva flow
How to prevent gingivitis symptoms
Along with regular visits to your dentist in Little Rock, you should follow these simple at-home steps to keep current gingivitis symptoms from worsening and prevent their appearance in the future. Remember, you could have early gum disease and not know it. This makes good, consistent oral hygiene important to getting and keeping an amazing smile.
1. Brush your teeth twice a day.
When you brush twice a day, you prevent bacteria from sticking to and between your teeth. You also prevent plaque from hardening into tartar, which can happen in as little as two days.
2. Use an electric toothbrush.
A recent study showed that electric toothbrushes clean your teeth and gums far better than regular toothbrushes do. They also help ensure less tooth decay and even help you keep your teeth longer.
For best results, use an electric toothbrush with an oscillating head, or a head that spins in both directions. For even better results, follow this guide to help you know what to look for when you buy one, how to use it properly, and how to keep it working great.
3. Use fluoride toothpaste.
Fluoride is a mineral that you already have in your teeth. However, when you use a little more of it in your toothpaste, you help keep your enamel (the outer layer of your teeth) stronger and better protected against cavities and tooth decay. Although every toothpaste helps remove plaque, not every toothpaste fights gingivitis symptoms like those with fluoride.
4. Floss twice a day.
Just like brushing, flossing twice a day is best for strong dental health. This is because brushing—even with an electric toothbrush—doesn’t always reach the places between your teeth. When you floss consistently, you keep bacteria out of these places and prevent it from making your gum disease worse.
Note that you should floss and then brush, not the other way around. Many people brush and then floss, but this just leaves bacteria and loose food particles on your teeth until you brush again. Little changes in habit like this can be some of the most effective ways to prevent gingivitis and to keep your teeth and gums healthy in the long run.
5. Rinse with mouthwash.
Mouthwash acts as a bonus tooth and gum cleaner—an added line of defense against gingivitis symptoms. It can be tempting to only use mouthwash and think it’s doing the job. However, you shouldn’t do this; plaque is sticky, and liquid alone can’t remove it.
Instead of using mouthwash that contains alcohol (which burns and can be harsh on sensitive gums), use an alcohol-free mouthwash that targets plaque. This kind will also contain fluoride, which helps keep your teeth strong.
6. Stop smoking and chewing tobacco (or don’t start).
Smoking is a leading cause of gum disease in the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), smokers are twice as likely to get gum disease as nonsmokers. This is because smoking (and chewing) tobacco weakens how gum tissue cells work. However you use it, tobacco also makes it easier for you to get infections in your mouth. Ultimately, any form of tobacco use creates a crack in your defenses against tooth decay and other dangerous oral health problems.
How gingivitis affects your health
Gingivitis symptoms aren’t just harmful to your teeth and gums. If left untreated, gingivitis could lead to periodontitis. This more severe form of gum disease happens when your gums pull further away from your teeth and plaque spreads below your gum line.
At this point, the infection starts to break down your gum tissue and the bones that support your teeth. Your gums hurt and bleed more, and the swelling gets worse. From here, your teeth, gums, and bones break down, and the infection can even cause inflammation throughout the rest of your body. However, this isn’t all. Research shows that periodontitis can also lead to:
- heart disease
- rheumatoid arthritis
- premature birth
Of these, the strongest linked to periodontitis is diabetes. It makes people more susceptible to infections—gum disease included. What’s worse, this relationship goes both ways: Periodontitis can increase blood sugar, potentially creating more complications for people with diabetes. However, if you and your dentist start gingivitis treatments early enough, you can lower the risk of facing these health issues altogether.
Ready for your best smile ever?
Don’t let something as treatable as red, swollen gums become something far more difficult to treat. Contact Arkansas Family Dental today at (501) 381-7236 for a checkup to discuss your gingivitis symptoms, or fill out this form to schedule an appointment.