What is gingivitis and what can you do to prevent it?

Gingivitis means inflammation of the gums (gingiva). It commonly occurs because of films of bacteria that accumulate on the teeth - plaque; this type is called plaque-induced gingivitis. Gingivitis is a non-destructive type of periodontal disease. If left untreated, gingivitis can progress to periodontitis, which is more serious and can eventually lead to loss of teeth.

In mild cases of gingivitis there may be no discomfort or noticeable symptoms. Signs and symptoms of gingivitis may include: gums are bright red or purple; gums are tender, and sometimes painful to the touch; gums bleed easily when brushing teeth or flossing; halitosis (bad breath); inflammation (swollen gums); receding gums; soft gums.

What causes gingivitis?

The most common cause of gingivitis is the accumulation of bacterial plaque between and around the teeth, which triggers an immune response, which in turn can eventually lead to the destruction of gingival tissue, and eventually further complications, including the loss of teeth. However, the exact reason why gingivitis develops has not been proven, but several theories exist.

(1) Plaque that accumulates in the areas between the teeth contains a large numbers of bacteria thought to be responsible for gingivitis. But, almost everyone has plaque on their teeth and gingivitis is far less common.

(2) Underlying illness or a particular medication that renders the immune system susceptible to gingivitis (diabetes, Addisons disease, HIV, and other immune system diseases have weaker ability to fight bacteria invading the gum). People with Sjögrens syndrome have chronic dryness of the mouth that predisposes them to develop gingivitis.

(3) Hormonal changes: During pregnancy, puberty, and steroid therapy, hormonal changes may leave the gums vulnerable to bacterial infection.

(4) Medications: Some medications used for seizures, high blood pressure, and organ transplants can suppress the immune system and change the structure of the gums enough to permit bacterial infection.

(5) Smoking - regular smokers more commonly develop gingivitis compared to non-smokers.

(6) Family history - experts say that people whose parent(s) has/had gingivitis, have a higher risk of developing it themselves.

Good mouth and teeth care, regular dental follow-up, and treatment of associated underlying illnesses are also necessary for preventing gingivitis....