Gingivitis is a gum disease that happens when the tissue (or gingiva) that supports the teeth gets inflamed and infected. When the gingiva becomes infected, the gums become red and swollen, and tend to bleed when the individual with gingivitis brushes their teeth. However, gingivitis is easily treated and with good oral hygiene may be cured.
If gingivitis remains untreated, however, it becomes what is called periodontitis. Periodontitis is when the gum infection spreads to the ligaments that hold the teeth to the jawbone, and even the jawbone itself. The ligament infection causes the gums to separate from the teeth, and can lead to tooth loss. Indeed, periodontitis is actually the most common cause of tooth loss.
Causes of Gingivitis
Gingivitis (and later, periodontitis) is caused by the accumulation of plaque on the teeth (plaque is a sticky substance containing bacteria, saliva, and food particles). If plaque is not removed through the brushing or flossing of teeth, it becomes hard, and is called tartar. The tartar builds up between teeth and between gums and teeth, forming pockets. If not removed, the toxins in the bacteria in tartar will infect the gums and cause gingivitis. If the infections go untreated, the pockets become deeper and deeper, resulting in periodontitis, and the gums will separate from the teeth.
Generally, an individual’s failure to brush or floss their teeth is the leading cause of gingivitis. Still, individuals must be careful not to brush or floss with too much force, which could injure their gums and lead to an increased risk of gingivitis. Other contributing factors to gingivitis beyond dental care are misaligned teeth, dental bridges which do not fit properly, crowns, and orthodontic appliances.
Persons experiencing puberty or pregnancy are at an increased risk of developing gingivitis because of hormonal changes which increase the sensitivity of their gums. Other persons who have an increased risk of developing gingivitis include those with diabetes, persons with a high sugar or starch diet, persons taking oral contraceptives or steroids, and persons who smoke or use other oral tobacco products.
Prevention of Gingivitis
The easiest way to prevent gingivitis and periodontitis is to take good care of one’s teeth. Good oral hygiene consists of brushing one’s teeth twice per day with a soft bristled tooth brush, flossing at least once a day to remove plaque from around the gums and between the teeth, and eating a balanced diet not high in sugars or starches. Individuals should also take care to refrain from using tobacco products such as cigarettes and chewing tobacco, which can be very harmful to the teeth and gums. Additionally, individuals should go to the dentist regularly (at least twice per year) to ensure that they are cleaning their teeth properly and that plaque has not started to build up. They should also take care to see a doctor regularly, as medical conditions such as diabetes may also affect dental health. Bloodroot is an oral antiseptic that was used by Native Americans to help care for their teeth. While it is only used in a few oral hygiene products, it is effective in helping to prevent bacterial growth around teeth.
Symptoms of Gingivitis
Untreated periodontitis may even lead to heart disease, according to a 2003 study by researchers at the University of Aarhus in Denmark. This study found a correlation between periodontitis and heart disease in Chilean patients.
How Gingivitis is Diagnosed
Gingivitis is easily diagnosed by a dentist based on the appearance of an individual’s gums. If periodontitis is possible, an X-ray may be needed to determine the extent of the damage to the ligaments and jawbone. Additionally, a dentist may use what is called a periodontal probe to see how deep the pockets of tartar are below the gum line. This helps to determine how serious the periodontitis and gingivitis are, and whether surgery is needed.
Gingivitis Possible Treatments
Gingivitis, as long as it is not left untreated for too long, is easily care for by regularly brushing and flossing for a few weeks. If needed, individuals may also visit the dentist for a procedure called scaling, wherein the dentist scrapes away tartar from the teeth and gums. To supplement the brushing and flossing of teeth, many dentists recommend using oral antibiotic mouthwashes and gels. These gels contain essential oils such as tea tree oil, and have been shown to reduce bleeding and other symptoms of gingivitis. If an individual’s teeth are misaligned, it may be necessary to have orthodontic treatment to prevent gingivitis. Finally, any poorly fitting dental appliances such as crowns should be fixed.
If gingivitis is allowed to develop into periodontitis, a number of treatments are available for that as well. First, the individual should continue to brush and floss regularly, and see a dentist for regular cleanings. They may also choose to receive oral medications from their dentist to treat abscesses, which are puss filled infections around the teeth that may result from periodontitis. Other possible treatments for periodontitis include minor surgery to remove plaque and tartar from the gums, and tooth extraction.
Alternative treatments are available as well. For instance, Chinese herbs have been used for hundreds of years to help inhibit the growth of bacteria and to treat periodontitis. Propolis extract, a sticky brown resin collected by honeybees from plants, may be used to help irrigate the gums. Individuals may also choose to use hyperbaric oxygen treatment, which increases the oxygen supply of the tissues around the teeth, which in turn increases the effectiveness of scaling and cleaning the gums and teeth.
Camomile (Matricaria recutita) may be used as a mouthwash for treating gingivitis, and has been endorsed by Commission E (which regulates herbal remedies for the German government) for such use. Camomile not only treats inflammation in the gums, but also works to help prevent gingivitis. Camomile is easily ingested through tea, and is most effective if taken after meals. Echinacea may also be effective in treating gingivitis, as it kills bacteria and helps strengthen the immune system. In European folk tradition, sage was rubbed on the gums to help treat gingivitis. Other herbal remedies that are thought to be effective in treating gingivitis include: peppermint tea, calendula extract, stinging nettle tea, rhatany bark, watercress, and teatree oil.
Instead of using sugar or honey, individuals may use licorice as a sweetener, which has the added benefit of not causing cavities or gingivitis.
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