Gingivitis is inflammation of the gums, which when left untreated can cause periodontal (gum) disease. The condition may be without many symptoms, though many people notice bleeding of the gums when they brush or floss. This is not, contrary to popular belief, normal, and is due to excess bacteria creating plaque on the teeth and irritating the gums. When gingivitis causes gums to bleed, this shouldn’t be a signal to brush or floss less, but instead to brush and floss more to prevent gingivitis, and to see your dentist.
There are a number of things that can cause or exacerbate gingivitis. Pregnant women tend to be prone to the condition, and should get good dental cleanings prior to trying to get pregnant, when possible. People who are diabetic, or who take medications that create excessive dry mouth are also more prone to the condition. Virtually all of us are at risk for the condition if we don’t maintain good oral hygiene.
Essentially, you prevent gingivitis by regular brushing and flossing of the teeth. You should floss twice daily, and brush three times a day. It is especially important to brush the teeth before bed, since the mouth will grow the most bacteria while you are sleeping. Getting rid of food or particles that can accelerate this growth by two minutes of brushing is well worth the time it takes.
In addition to good teeth brushing and flossing habits, you can prevent gingivitis by having two dental cleanings a year from your dentist or oral hygienist. Not only will this help remove excess plaque, but it can also be of significant help in diagnosing the early stages of gum problems so that the dentist can recommend changes to daily oral hygiene routines. The key is to prevent gingivitis from becoming periodontal disease, which is much more difficult to treat and resolve.
You should be aware that smoking is one of the main ways to get gingivitis. If you smoke and/or chew tobacco, quitting may help you prevent gingivitis and adds to the long list of reasons why you should quit. People with dry mouth are also at much higher risk for gingivitis.
There are a few ways to manage dry mouth, such as that caused by medications or health conditions. You can chew sugarless gum, which dentists are now finding does a great job of removing food particles and breaking down bacteria before it can create plaque. The gum must be sugarless, and not contain any sugar or you may exacerbate rather than help the problem. When dry mouth is severe, you should also use a tongue scraper, which can reduce bacteria accumulation on the tongue, lowering risk of gum inflammation. Additionally there are several medications that can increase salivation.
Studies on electric or battery-operated toothbrushes show these may be more effective than standard toothbrushes to prevent gingivitis. They tend to remove greater amounts of bacteria in a shorter time period. Some have gum massage attachments, or these can be purchased separately. These may also help to reduce gum inflammation.
Most people can prevent gingivitis by maintaining great toothbrushing habits and flossing one to two times a day. Don’t forget to give your teeth an extra brush after consuming sugary foods. Chewing sugarless gum may also be effective in reducing incidence of this condition. Regular dental check-ups and cleanings tell you how well your home prevention strategies are working.