Gingivitis is an early stage of gum disease that can directly affect your oral health and overall health. Know the causes, recognise the symptoms and learn how to treat and prevent it.
It is the inflammation of the gum tissue surrounding the teeth. This swelling is often caused by the build-up of plaque. If left untreated, gingivitis can develop into a more severe form of gum disease, known as periodontitis, which is a major cause of tooth loss in adults. Gingivitis is often painless, so if you exhibit any signs or symptoms be sure to visit your dental professional for a proper assessment and to determine a course of treatment.
What causes gingivitis?
Gingivitis is commonly caused by the build-up of plaque. Plaque is an extremely sticky, colourless to pale yellow deposit of bacteria that regularly forms on your teeth.
The bacteria produce acids that attack your tooth enamel and can damage the gums. This damage has the possibility of becoming permanent if left untreated.
Other causes of gingivitis include hormonal changes, illnesses, smoking, taking certain medications, bad brushing habits, and genetics.
Signs and symptoms of gingivitis
When gingivitis progresses to periodontitis, the gums begin to pull away from the teeth, creating small pockets. Bacteria can then become trapped in these pockets, weakening the bone supporting the teeth. Make sure to see your dental professional immediately if you notice any of these signs and symptoms to receive a proper assessment.
How gingivitis affects your teeth
Knowing how gingivitis affects tooth anatomy can be helpful in better understanding how flossing--and good oral care in general--can remove plaque, which helps stop gingivitis before it starts.
If you looked at a cutaway picture of a healthy tooth, the main components include the gums (also known as gingiva) and the main parts of the tooth, as follows:
- Root: The root is the multi-pronged bottom of the tooth that extends into the gums and jaw. Gingivitis is an early stage of periodontitis (periodontal or gum disease). In severe cases of gum disease, very infected gums can cause the roots to loosen and allow the tooth to fall out.
- Pulp: The pulp is the nerve-filled centre of the tooth. The pulp is not directly infected in cases of gingivitis, but gum pain may radiate into the nerves in your teeth. Periodontal or gum disease, however, may impact the pulp, if the pocket extends to the end of the root, known as the apex.
- Crown: The crown is the top part of the tooth that you see and brush. The crown is covered with tooth enamel, which helps protect teeth above the gum line. However, it's at and around the gum line that plaque can build up. That's why flossing is essential to maintaining healthy gums -- it clears away plaque-causing bacteria before build-up occurs.
A picture of gingivitis shows how the gums pull away from the teeth and appear swollen and red. In addition, you would see hard, whitish deposits of tartar along the gum line. A dental hygienists or dentist's skill is needed to remove the tartar, but you can keep it from accumulating by flossing regularly.