What is gingivitis?
Gingivitis is the earliest stage of gum disease (periodontal disease). It develops when plaque, tartar and bacteria build up on your teeth, causing red, swollen, bleeding gums.
You can successfully manage gingivitis, especially with the help of a dentist. But left untreated, gingivitis can lead to periodontitis (a more severe type of gum disease involving bone loss in your jaw).
Who gets gingivitis?
Gum disease is more likely to occur in:
- Men and people assigned male at birth (AMAB), though researchers aren’t sure why. It could have to do with hormones or that men are more likely to get related diseases.
- 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, as smoking weakens your body’s ability to fight infection.
How common is gingivitis?
Gingivitis is very common. Almost half of all adults older than 30 have some kind of gum disease.
Symptoms and Causes
What are the signs and symptoms of gingivitis?
Gingivitis symptoms aren’t always obvious in the early stages, 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.
- Sensitivity to hot or cold foods.
- Tenderness or pain when you chew food.
What causes gingivitis?
Gingivitis is your body’s inflammatory response to plaque and tartar on your teeth. When plaque and tartar remain on your teeth for too long, your gums become irritated, red and swollen.
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 prescriptions and over-the-counter medications can reduce the flow of saliva (spit), resulting in dry mouth (xerostomia). Saliva helps keep your 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.
Is gingivitis contagious?
The bacteria that cause gingivitis are transmissible from one person to another. So, even though experts agree that gingivitis itself isn’t contagious, people who have the condition can spread bacteria through saliva-to-saliva contact.
The bottom line? You’re not likely to get gingivitis from kissing or sharing utensils. But if you have saliva-to-saliva contact with someone who has gingivitis, you’re more likely to develop the condition yourself. This is especially true if you have poor oral hygiene or have health conditions that make you more susceptible to disease, such as HIV/AIDS or leukemia.
Diagnosis and Tests
How is gingivitis diagnosed?
If you have gingivitis symptoms, you should see a dentist for a checkup. Your dentist will inspect your mouth for:
- Signs of infection such as redness and swelling.
- Loose teeth.
- Gums that are pulling away from your teeth (gum recession).
Management and Treatment
How do you treat gingivitis?
Treatment of gingivitis aims to control the infection and restore healthy teeth and gums. Your dentist or periodontist will thoroughly clean your teeth to remove harmful bacteria, plaque and tartar. Additional gingivitis treatments include:
- Scaling and root planing: This procedure is similar to a routine dental cleaning, but reaches deeper beneath your gums. Scaling removes tartar and bacteria. Planing smooths the surfaces of your teeth roots and prevent bacteria from sticking.
- Improved oral hygiene: A good dental cleaning usually clears up gingivitis. But you need to keep the cleanliness going once you return home. You’ll learn how to properly clean your teeth and get help scheduling checkups.
- Antimicrobial mouthwash: Rinsing with an antimicrobial mouthwash can help destroy disease-causing bacteria.
- Dental work repair: Your dentist may fix or remove crowns, fillings or bridges that stick out or don’t fit right. Smoother surfaces are easier to keep clean.
How can I reduce my risk for gingivitis?
You can reduce your risk for gingivitis with good oral hygiene:
- Brush thoroughly twice a day — once when you wake up and once before you go to bed.
- Manage diabetes if you have it.
- Don’t smoke or use other tobacco products.
- Floss every day to remove bacteria between your teeth.
- Limit food and drinks containing alcohol and excess sugar.
- See a dentist at least once a year for checkups, and more often if you have any symptoms.
If people in your family have gum disease, you may face a greater risk of developing it. You may need more checkups and cleanings to prevent gum disease. Ask your dentist about a cleaning schedule that’s right for you.
Outlook / Prognosis
What can I expect if I have gingivitis?
The earlier you catch gum disease, the more you can manage it. Gingivitis is reversible with proper care and maintenance, but it can come back. You must take good care of your teeth and gums between office visits.
If you don’t treat gingivitis, it can turn into a more serious gum disease. Known as periodontitis, this gum disease damages the structures that keep your teeth anchored.
Can gingivitis be cured?
Unlike the other stages of gum disease, gingivitis is curable as long as you treat it early enough. If you notice symptoms of gingivitis, you should schedule an appointment with a dentist and immediately begin practicing better oral hygiene at home.
Untreated gingivitis can worsen and turn into periodontitis. At this stage of gum disease, you start to lose bone around your teeth — a permanent side effect that results in a domino effect of oral health issues.
What’s the fastest way to cure gingivitis?
The fastest way to get rid of gingivitis is to see a dentist for a cleaning and improve your oral hygiene habits at home between visits.
When should I see a dentist?
If you have one or more of the symptoms of gingivitis, call your dentist. They 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.
What questions should I ask my dentist?
Consider asking your dentist the following questions:
- How should I brush my teeth?
- How long should I brush my teeth?
- Can you tell if I’m I missing any spots when I brush?
- Will my insurance cover the dental cleaning and treatment I need?
- Do you recommend a certain toothbrush, toothpaste, mouth rinse or floss?
- When should I come in for another dental appointment?
Frequently Asked Questions
Is gingivitis a serious problem?
The good news is that early treatment can reverse gingivitis. But left untreated, gingivitis can progress into advanced gum disease. Detecting and treating the issue early can save you a lot of time, worry and money in the future.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Everyone’s mouth is full of bacteria. Good oral hygiene can stop bacteria from causing gingivitis, the first stage of gum disease. If you find and treat gingivitis early, you can avoid permanent damage to your teeth and gums. See a dentist regularly for cleanings and checkups, not just when you have a toothache or other dental issue.
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