What is gingivitis?

Gingivitis is a mild, early form of gum disease, also called periodontal disease. Gingivitis happens when bacteria infect the gums, often making them swollen, red and quick to bleed.

You can successfully manage gingivitis, especially with the help of a dentist. But left untreated, the condition can lead to periodontitis , a more severe type of gum disease.

Who gets gum disease?

Gingivitis is very common. Almost half of all adults older than 30 have some kind of gum disease.

Gum disease is more likely to occur in:

  • Men, though researchers aren’t sure why. It could have to do with hormones or that men are more likely to get related diseases. Men also tend not to go to the dentist as often.
  • People living in poverty and those with less than a high school education. These factors are tied to a number of diseases.
  • People who smoke, since smoking weakens the body’s ability to fight infection.

What causes gingivitis?

Everyone has bacteria in their mouths. Most bacteria are normal, natural and safe. But a few types of bacteria can create plaque, a sticky, almost invisible film on the teeth.

If you don’t clean your teeth regularly and thoroughly, the bacteria and plaque can cause an infection where your teeth meet your gums. That is gingivitis.

Plaque eventually hardens and becomes tartar, which is harder to remove. Tartar can trap more bacteria, worsening gingivitis.

Do certain things increase the chances of developing gingivitis?

You may face a higher risk of developing gingivitis if you:

  • Are pregnant or experience other hormonal changes tied to oral health.
  • Don’t take good care of your teeth or have crooked teeth that are hard to clean.
  • Have diabetes.
  • Have a family history of gum disease.
  • Smoke or chew tobacco.

Also, some prescription and over-the-counter medications can reduce the flow of saliva (spit). Saliva helps keep the mouth clean, so this change may contribute to gingivitis. Examples of such medications include:

  • Drugs to treat epilepsy.
  • Some cancer therapies.
  • Calcium channel blockers for blood pressure.
  • Oral contraceptives.

What are the symptoms of gingivitis?

Gingivitis often doesn’t cause any symptoms, so you may have it and not know it. As the condition worsens over time, you may develop:

  • Bad breath that doesn’t go away, even after brushing.
  • Gums that bleed easily, particularly when you brush your teeth.
  • Red, swollen gums.2S
  • Sensitivity to hot or cold foods.
  • Tenderness or pain when you chew food.

When should you call a dentist about your gums?

If you have one or more of the symptoms of gingivitis, call your dentist. Your dentist may examine you at your next checkup or make a special appointment. It depends on how long you’ve had symptoms and how severe they are.

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