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Gingivitis: Symptoms and Causes in Western Massachusetts

Maybe you’ve noticed some blood on your floss after performing your pre-bedtime oral hygiene ritual, or perhaps your partner diplomatically mentioned that your breath isn’t as fresh as it normally is. These are just two of the warning signs that point to a possible case of gingivitis.

Read on to learn more about how to spot gingivitis, what causes it, how to treat it and what could happen if you don’t take gum inflammation seriously.

Periodontal Disease: Common and Preventable

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that 47.2% of adults aged 30 and older have some form of gum or periodontal disease. If left untreated, gum disease can turn into chronic periodontitis, the most advanced form of the disease. This serious condition is characterized by the loss of tissue and bone that support the teeth, causing teeth to loosen and often resulting in tooth loss.

The American Academy of Periodontology (AAP) reports that periodontal disease is higher in men (56.4%) than in women (38.4%). Your risk for periodontal disease increases as you age, according to the CDC, with 70.1% of adults aged 65 and older having the condition. The good news is that gum disease is largely preventable. Gingivitis is the first, early stage of gum disease, which makes it important to know the warning signs and act on them quickly.

What Are the Symptoms of Gingivitis?

Gum disease is often painless, and knowing what to look for is key to prevention. Healthy gums are pale pink, firm and fit snugly around the teeth, like a turtleneck sweater. The following are some of the most common signs that your gums may be irritated and inflamed:

  • Dark red or purple gums
  • Puffy or swollen gums
  • Gums that recede or pull away from the teeth
  • Bleeding gums when you brush or floss
  • Gums that are tender or painful when touched
  • Pain or sensitivity while chewing
  • Loose teeth
  • New spaces between your teeth or changes in your bite
  • Bad breath or a persistent bad taste in your mouth

What Causes Gingivitis?

Not practicing good dental hygiene is the quickest way to encourage plaque, a sticky, invisible film composed mainly of bacteria, to form on your teeth. This coating causes inflammation and infection of the gingiva, the gum tissue surrounding the base of your teeth.

When you eat foods high in sugar and carbohydrates, they interact with the bacteria found in your mouth to form plaque. Because plaque is constantly re-forming on your teeth, daily removal through brushing and flossing is essential. If plaque is not removed from teeth, it can harden under the gumline into calculus deposits, also known as tartar, which collect bacteria and cause irritation. Tartar creates a protective shield for bacteria and makes plaque more difficult to remove, requiring professional dental cleaning.

Letting plaque and tartar remain on your teeth for long periods of time increases the amount of inflammation in the gingiva, leading to swelling and bleeding of the gums and sometimes tooth decay, explains the Mayo Clinic. If it goes untreated, gingivitis can progress to chronic periodontitis, an infection of the underlying tissue and bone, and eventual tooth loss.

Are There Common Risk Factors for Developing Periodontal Disease?

Although anyone can develop gum disease, there are certain things that can increase your risk. In addition to poor oral care habits, these include:

  • Tobacco use, whether smoking or chewing
  • Genetics, a family history of gum disease
  • Diabetes and conditions that lower immunity, such as HIV/AIDS, leukemia or cancer treatments
  • Poor nutrition, including vitamin C deficiency
  • Female hormonal changes related to the menstrual cycle, use of birth control pills or pregnancy
  • Certain medications, especially those that cause dry mouth
  • Defective fillings
  • Poorly fitting dentures, bridges and other restorations

Other Ways Gum Disease Can Affect Your Health

Tooth loss is just one way periodontal disease can affect you. Several studies have suggested that severe gum disease may be associated with other systemic health conditions. While it was once thought that bacteria was the causative factor, more recent research demonstrates that inflammation may be responsible for the link, according to the AAP. Some of the health conditions associated with periodontal disease include the following:

Heart disease: While a cause-and-effect relationship has not yet been proven, the AAP explains that research indicates periodontal disease increases the risk of heart disease.

Stroke: The AAP cites a study that found people diagnosed with acute cerebrovascular ischemia, a stroke caused by a blockage in an artery that supplies blood to the brain, were found more likely to have an oral infection when compared to those in the control group.

Healthline cites two studies that looked at the link between gum disease and strokes that suggest treating gum disease can reduce the risk of strokes caused by a hardening of large arteries in the brain. Researchers found people with gingivitis were 2.4 times more likely to have severely blocked brain arteries. Treating periodontal disease also improves control of diabetes, high blood pressure and cholesterol—all stroke risk factors.

Respiratory disease: Research shows that the bacteria that grow in the mouths of people with periodontal disease can be aspirated into the lungs, causing respiratory diseases such as pneumonia, reports the AAP.

Cancer: The higher incidence of gum disease in men takes a toll in many ways, including putting them at increased risk for certain cancers. According to the AAP, men with a history of gum disease are 14% more likely to develop cancer than men with healthy gums. Studies find that men with gum disease are:

  • 54% more likely to develop pancreatic cancer
  • 49% more likely to develop kidney cancer
  • 30% more likely to develop blood cancers

Diabetes: People with diabetes are more likely to develop periodontal disease than people without the disease, especially if blood sugar levels are not controlled, notes the AAP. In turn, severe gum disease can increase blood sugar, which puts people with diabetes at increased risk for diabetic complications, such as nerve damage, kidney disease and vision loss.

The Best Ways to Prevent or Treat Gum Disease

Periodontal disease is a major cause of tooth loss in adults, but because it’s typically a painless condition, you may not even know you have it. Practicing healthy dental habits at home is the best way to prevent and/or control gum disease. Ask your local dentist how many times per day you should brush and floss to remove the bacteria and plaque that cause gingivitis.

Regular dental visits are a key component of good oral care. Since everyone’s mouth conditions are different, it’s best to ask your dentist or dental hygienist how often you should come in for exams and cleanings. Certain risk factors, such as smoking, dry mouth or deep pockets around the teeth, may cause your dentist to want to see you on a more frequent basis.

If your gums do show signs of gingivitis, the condition is usually reversible if caught early enough and treated with a professional cleaning at your dental office, followed by consistent brushing and flossing at home. If the gum inflammation is more progressed, your dentist may recommend scaling and root planing. This deep-cleaning procedure works below the gumline to remove plaque and tartar. Scaling and root planing treatment is beneficial for people with chronic periodontitis—gum disease that has advanced past gingivitis.

Remember: It’s possible to have gum disease with no warning signs or symptoms. That’s one reason why regular dental checkups are so important in helping you keep your teeth for life. To find out your dentist’s recommendations for preventing gingivitis, call us today or make an appointment online. We look forward to seeing you.

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