6 Signs of Gingivitis (Gum Disease) and How To Spot It

Gingivitis is a common gum disease and affects most people after puberty. It is estimated that over 7 in 10 adolescents and about half of all adults in the United States have some form of gingivitis. Most are asymptomatic, meaning that there are no symptoms or symptoms are so mild that it goes unnoticed. However, if left untreated it can progress into a more serious condition known as periodontitis.

There are a number of different dental problems such as tooth decay, gingivitis and peridontitis. Most are preceded by inadequate dental hygiene. This means not brushing at least twice a day with a suitable toothpaste and flossing to remove food particles between the teeth. These dental problems are treatable and preventable with proper dental hygiene that needs to be practiced daily. Gingivitis is only one such orodental problem but it is a precursor to conditions like periodontitis which in turn are linked to serious diseases like heart attacks and strokes.

How To Spot Gingivitis

There are several signs and symptoms of gingivitis but it may not always be easy to spot in the early stages of gingivitis, when the disease is usually mild. Without regular dental checkups, mild gingivitis can remain undiagnosed for long periods of time with little to no symptoms arising. Fortunately gingivitis can be treated and reversed in the early stages. Once the condition progresses to periodontitis, the damage to the gum and bone are permanent.

Read more on what is gingivitis.

Gingivitis is not only treatable, it is also preventable. It is important to understand how gingivitis occurs in order to prevent it. The human mouth is teeming with bacteria. When these bacteria interact with food, it forms a thin film known as plaque. It sticks to the teeth and if not removed within 2 to 3 days it develops into tartar, which forms a hard coating on the teeth. Unlike plaque which can be removed with brushing, tartar cannot. It has to be removed by a dental professional.

The tartar forms a barrier around the teeth and gums which allows bacteria to thrive underneath it. This causes tooth decay and inflammation of the gums which is known as gingivitis. It can persist for long periods of time before progressing further. Eventually the bacteria and its toxins can eventually damage the underlying connective tissue and bones deep within the gums. This is known as periodontitis.

Bleeding Gums

This is one of the most common signs of gingivitis. The inflamed gum tissue becomes weakened and even the slightest injury can cause bleeding. At other times the gums can bleed spontaneously but this is usually in more severe cases. For most people with mild gingivitis, bleeding may not be overt and only noticed during brushing and flossing.

Sometimes it just tinges the toothbrush and floss with a pink color. It is important to note that vigorous brushing and flossing can injure even healthy gums and cause bleeding buts most people do not do this repeatedly. Therefore gums that bleed repeatedly should be suspected as a sign of gingivitis.

Swollen Gums

Inflammation of the gums leads to swelling of the gum tissue. It may even have a soft spongy feel to it rather than the usual firmness of healthy gums. Coupled with the other changes in gum tissue, the gums may appear puffy and dark red. Sometimes this swelling may make the gums appear protruding or larger than it used to look like previously.

Dark Gums

Normal healthy gums are a pink color. Gingivitis causes discoloration of the gums. It appears dark red in color and even brownish to some extent. This is usually accompanied by the puffiness as the gum tissue loses its luster. There may be bright red areas if the gums are bleeding. Darkening of the gums can also occur with other diseases, apart from gingivitis.

Tender Gums

Pain of the gums may be experienced in more severe cases. Most of the time mild gingivitis is not painful. However, there may be periods of tenderness when pressure is applied to the gums. As the condition worsens and tooth decay sets it, pain may be felt mainly in the affected tooth. By the time it becomes severe and the deeper tissue of the gum and bone is affected, pain may be more obvious.

Receding Gums

As gingivitis progresses, the gum tissue may become eroded. Small pockets between the gum and teeth form. Bacteria and decomposing food can accumulate in these pockets. Eventually the gum tissue recedes, exposing more of the tooth and making the gum line seem thinner. This is an indication of more serious gum disease, as gingivitis progresses to periodontitis.

Bad Breath

Bad breath or halitosis is another common sign of gingivitis. The bacteria that are now thriving in the mouth and on the gum cause decomposition of trapped food particles. It is exacerbated by the recession of the gums and pockets where the bacteria and food particles are lodged. Often a person will report halitosis despite brushing and using a mouth rinse once gingivitis or peridontitis has developed.

Gingivitis Checklist

Here are some of the simple ways to prevent gingivitis and them more serious form of gum disease known as periodontitis.

  • Brush and floss at least twice a day. Use a suitable toothpaste that cleans the teeth thoroughly.
  • Monitor the gums for any changes in color, size and texture. Darkening, swelling and sponginess may be due to gingivitis.
  • Take note of any blood or streaks of blood when brushing and flossing. This may be one of the first signs of gingivitis.
  • See a dentist at least twice a year even if there is no existing dental problem. Scaling and cleaning by a professional can remove tartar buildup.
  • Do not wait to treat gingivitis at home once it is detected. Professional care can resolve the condition faster and prevent it from progressing to periodontitis.

It is important to note that periodontitis is irreversible, unlike gingivitis. Beyond the mouth, periodontitis has also been associated with heart disease, lung disease and strokes. Therefore preventing gingivitis is not just important for avoiding periodontitis but also to prevent serious and life threatening diseases beyond the gum and mouth.

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