What is Gingivitis(Gum Disease)?
Gingivitis also commonly known as Periodontitis is an early stage of gum infection that is common in the world. The World Health Organization estimates 3 out of 4 Americans have some form of the bacterial infection, with 15%-20% worldwide developing the severe version of the disease.
Causes Of Gum Problems
The most common causes are improper oral hygiene and improper technique. When brushing, flossing and rinsing don’t occur daily, leftover bacteria builds and forms a thick film known as plaque, which can lead to yellowing and break down teeth over time.
Some habits are widely known to lead to gum problems (such as not brushing, flossing and rinsing), but there are also surprising, less well-known causes of the bacterial infection in your mouth. Beef up your gum-disease smarts to stop gum infection in its tracks.
The Most Common Cause Of Gum Problems are:
Gum infection is most commonly caused by plaque—a thick film of bacteria forming on gums and teeth that daily brushing, flossing and rinsing removes. If you fall into this category you’re definitely not alone—there are millions of adults who have some stage of gum disease. The good news: early gum disease is reversible—so it may be time to pick up some new healthy habits. Dental check-ups at least every 6 months is also key.
Smoking interferes with the normal function of gum tissue cells, making your mouth more vulnerable to infections like gum disease.
- Hormonal Shifts
When you’re pregnant, or sometimes even during typical monthly menstrual cycles, hormones can rise and fall, making gums more susceptible to gum problems. Expecting a baby does not mean you automatically have problems with your gums or teeth. It just means you’ll want to take extra-special care of your mouth during this time to maintain your oral health. Some of the unusual things you can expect to possibly happen during your pregnancy are inflamed gums that are irritated, puffy and red and bleed a little when brushed or flossed (if you experience these symptoms, know that they typically disappear after pregnancy, but you should still consult with your dentist and doctor with any questions you have about how to take care of your gums).
- Prescription Meds
Medications may have a side effect of dampening saliva production and flow, leaving a dry mouth where bacteria can more readily spread. If you’re concerned about the status of your gums, discuss any medications you are on with your doctor.
- Nutritional Deficiencies
It's hard work to get all your daily vitamins, but when you’re not getting enough vitamin C, this could be especially harmful to your gums. A diet that is high in sugar and carbohydrates and low in water and vitamin C is a recipe for gum problems.
- Crooked Teeth
If you have the common situation where your teeth overlap, are crooked or rotate, this can create a breeding ground for gum infection. That's because misalignments create more spaces where plaque can build up and harm your teeth and gums. (Tip: So take extra care brushing and flossing in those areas.)
- Family History
If there has been a history of gum disease in your family, this is something to mention to your dentist, as it may put you at slightly increased risk for developing the bacterial gum infection.
Biofilm is a thin, slimy layer of bacteria that adhere to surfaces in the mouth such as the tongue, gums, and teeth. We all have a biofilm, even the most avid brushers, flossers and rinses, because the sticky film clings to nearly any surface that is wet (it happens in nature, too: think slippery rocks or the slick hull of a boat).
If you regularly brush, floss and rinse, you can minimize the biofilm. But when brushing, flossing and rinsing habits are lacking, the biofilm can build and develop into dental plaque that you can see with the naked eye (it is typically pale yellow in color).
The thicker biofilm can irritate gums and spur the body’s inflammatory response. This will make gums appear red and swollen instead of their normal healthy pink and firm state. If left untreated, gingivitis, the early stage of gum disease, which is completely reversible when action is swiftly taken, can progress into serious gum disease, called periodontitis, which can infect the bone.
Symptoms of Gum Problems & Gum Infection
What Are the Signs of Gingivitis?
It’s easy to miss the signs of gum disease. According to one professional dental association, just 10% of adults who have gum disease are aware of it. But if you have puffy, red gums that bleed easily when you brush or floss, you could have gingivitis. There may not be pain associated with gingivitis, which is why the signs may be overlooked.
From puffy to receding and bleeding gums, if you’re noticing changes in your mouth and aren’t sure what’s going on, brush up on the red flags of gum disease to see if what you’re experiencing may be signs of this gum infection.
Overlooking bleeding gums after brushing or flossing might not seem like an issue at first, but there’s good reason to keep track of these signals – which are early signs of a very treatable, reversible form of gum disease. Left untreated, this mild stage of gum disease can progress to an advanced stage, which permanently damages the bones and tissue that hold teeth in place. Pay attention to these five most visible signals your body is sending you and keep your mouth healthy.
- Red Gums (Redness or Inflammation of Gums)
Red is the warning-sign color for danger. So it makes sense that if you start peeking in the mirror and seeing gums that are a shade of red or are purplish, this could signal gums that are in trouble. Healthy gums are firm and pale pink. Bacteria can cause inflamed gums, which is known as gingivitis, the early, mild stage of gum disease, or periodontitis, the later, more serious stage of the disease.
- Sore Gums
In the early stage of gum disease, gums can also swell as they become inflamed. This is a sign that you want to start adhering to a more solid oral-care routine.
- Bleeding of Gums
Having bleeding gums, when you spit into it after brushing and/or flossing is another symptom. Gums that bleed easily signal early-stage gum disease.
- Receding Gums
Gums Are Pulling Away from Your Teeth. If your teeth are starting to look bigger than normal, and you notice receding gums, or gums that pull away from your teeth, this is another classic sign of early gum disease, or periodontitis. It's not just a natural part of aging.
- Bad Breath
Bad breath, or having an exceedingly bad taste in your mouth, can also signal early gum disease. Plaque buildup on the tongue is usually the culprit to bad breath.
- Dissecting red, Puffy and Irritated Gums
If your gums are red, swollen and irritated, and you notice gum bleeding after you brush or floss, these are some of the first signs of early gum disease, or gingivitis, which is quite common. Gums go from healthy pink and firm to irritated, red and puffy due to increasing amounts of plaque on the teeth as the body’s inflammatory response kicks in. When the gums are inflamed and agitated, they bleed easily when brushed or flossed.
The most common cause of irritated gums is an inconsistent oral hygiene routine at home. Improper brushing technique can also exacerbate these issues. Not brushing and flossing regularly or properly allows food and bacteria to lodge in between the tooth and gums creating a home for bacteria to multiply and become dental plaque. This buildup of plaque at the gum line, if not removed with a good, healthy clean-mouth routine, can harden into tartar, which can only be removed with professional dental tools.
What’s crucial to know is there is a window of time when gums are bleeding and inflamed when you can still reverse the gum infection in its infancy simply by improving your oral hygiene. So, while gingivitis is not serious, it needs to be taken seriously and acted on, or it will become advanced gum disease (periodontitis), which is the leading cause of adult tooth loss. Rinse twice daily, stick to gentle, twice-daily brushing with a soft bristle or electric brush and floss once daily. Also be sure to schedule regular dentist visits for plaque and tartar removal.
Other unique changes in your mouth spurred by gum disease could also include tender-to-the-touch gums, odd new spaces forming between your teeth, loose teeth and/or a change in your bite or the way your teeth fit together when you bite. These are signs you should not ignore. If you take control of your gum situation, there's still a chance for you to avoid advanced gum disease.
Foods that causes Gingivitis
- Ice Cream
This frozen treat harms gums, especially those that are already vulnerable. In general, the added sugars in most sweets—from cookies to sodas—are bad news for your gums, because the sugars bind to gums, triggering the release of eroding acids. What’s more, ice cream’s icy temperature can irritate gums where they have already started wearing away, exposing roots to hot and cold sensations. This doesn’t mean cutting sweets out of your diet. Try limiting yourself, and when you eat ice cream, try to brush away the sugars afterward. Plus, another solution is to rinse twice daily with mouthwash to neutralize the acidity of your diet.
Just as sugary diets do not promote healthy, firm gums, highly acidic diets are also gum offenders. And while tomatoes are healthy in many regards and rich in the antioxidant lycopene, which has been linked to lower stroke risk, the juicy fruit is also highly acidic. Eating such foods is like bathing your teeth in acid that wears away gums and promotes decay. When enjoying this juicy fruit, try to pair with other acid-neutralizing foods like mozzarella, lean beef or chicken, nuts, lentils or tuna.
Citrus fruits like oranges, grapefruits, lemons and limes are acidic and high in natural fruit sugar, which can damage and erode teeth and cause gum problems. There are other, non-acidic ways of getting vitamin C, such as taking supplements or eating veggies high in vitamin C but low in acid (such as broccoli, asparagus and peas) and low-acid fruits like cantaloupe, honeydew melon and kiwi (which are higher in vitamin C than oranges).
White bread, along with other foods that are full of starches made from white flour, are not friends to your gums. While it may surprise you, bread, crackers and chips can be just as damaging to healthy gums as candy. These starches are simple carbohydrates that hang around the mouth and dissolve into the type of simple sugar that mouth germs thrive on, the kind that leads to acid-producing tooth decay.
- Sports Drinks
In addition to being high in sugar, sports drinks can also erode gums and promote tooth decay, because they are also high in acid. A 2012 study found gums and teeth are attacked by the acid in sports drinks, after five consecutive days of exposure to them. If you or your child is drinking sports drinks after exercise sessions, either look at labels to find the brands lowest in added sugars or try switching to water.
Prevention & Treatment of Gingivitis
Can You Prevent Gingivitis?
Getting into a good, solid oral hygiene routine that involves brushing and rinsing twice daily, plus daily flossing, can reverse the early stage of gum disease known as gingivitis. Scheduling regular six-month dental checkups is also key to keeping your mouth clean and healthy, as tartar buildup is something only professional tools used at the dentist’s office can remove.
The good news is that the early stage of gum disease, which is a bacterial infection in your mouth, is reversible. And we’ve got you covered—from what to eat and drink to prevent damage to your gums to the best treatment options.
How Is Gingivitis Treated?
The most crucial step in treating gingivitis is to not ignore symptoms that may seem harmless, such as bleeeding gums in the sink when you floss and brush, and/or irritated gums that look red and/or swollen. If these symptoms appear, make an appointment to check in with your dentist to identify the cause and to get your teeth and gums assessed. Your dentist may recommend an improved daily home-care regimen for your teeth, including adding antibacterial mouthwash to your routine. If pockets of bacteria have formed around the teeth and gums are beginning to pull away from the teeth, a deep cleaning with your dentist or periodontist (a dentist who specializes in gum disease) may be suggested. The good news is that this early, mild stage of gum disease is preventable. That said, if it goes untreated and ignored, gingivitis can develop into advanced stage gum disease (periodontitis), which is the number one cause of tooth loss in adults.
Tips on how to prevent and treat gum disease
Gum disease is a mouth infection caused by thick bacteria clinging to gums and teeth. Getting rid of gum disease starts with figuring out what kind you have. If your gums are puffy or you bleeding gums when you brush, you might be looking at gingivitis. If left untreated and you experience severe gum and bone damage, it could be the more advanced periodontitis. Either way, you’ll need to commit to a new routine to solve it, incorporating brushing, flossing and rinsing.
- Give Your Mouth an Improved Routine
Gum disease mainly develops when we’ve slackened on our oral hygiene routine. When gum disease is in the early stage, the solution is simply upgrading your routine to wash away grime. Brushing after meals, flossing and swishing with antibacterial mouthwash twice daily can stop gingivitis in its tracks. Also schedule regular dentist checkups, because when plaque develops into tartar, it can only be removed with professional cleanings. Early gum infection is preventable if you swiftly take action.
- Get a Thorough Cleaning
If sticking to improved oral health routines isn’t reversing gum disease symptoms, you likely have a more advanced infection where deep, hard-to-reach bacteria pockets have formed around the base of your teeth. A deep cleaning by a dentist or periodontist every 6 months is the best way to rid your mouth of tartar.
- Pick up Medicated Reinforcements
If problems persist, antibiotics may be prescribed to fully eradicate the infection-causing microorganisms in your mouth, ranging from topical gels you spread into pockets or gaps between gums and teeth to antibiotic mouthwashes.
- Leave It to the Experts
To treat more advanced forms of gum infection, dentists may recommend one of several types of gum surgery - or even a combination of them - to remove deep pockets and inflammation. Options include flap surgery (where gums are lifted away from the teeth, tartar is removed and gums are sutured back around the teeth); soft-tissue grafts (which replace worn-away gums to cover exposed roots); bone grafts (to replace lost bone with grafts from humans or animals, or even man-made materials); and tissue regeneration (to try to grow back lost bone). These procedures are as complicated as they sound, so you’ll want to avoid them if you can.
5 Foods for Healthy Gums
Routine brushing, flossing and rinsing keep your mouth in good health. And while you need these powerful weapons in your bacteria-fighting arsenal, you could always use reinforcement. Beyond limiting the sugary sweets and harsh acidic foods in your diet, there are foods that are good for your gums.
Ginger root is considered a healing herb. With its anti-inflammatory properties, ginger promotes healthy tissue in your mouth for good oral health.
- Eating An Apple
Eating an apple can take a while. And that’s a good thing for your mouth. The munching action spurs a cleansing action that shakes up the plaque that clings to gums and teeth. Stock up on apples, but be sure to rinse with mouthwash afterward. Even healthy foods like apples can expose your mouth to acids.
- Include Milk in Your Diet?
Milk, and other dairy foods such as cheese and yogurt are not only packed with bone-fortifying calcium, but also with the protein casein, which research suggests reduces acid levels in the mouth. In addition, drinking milk can neutralize acids produced by plaque bacteria. Note: Drinking milk with cereal or dessert doesn't have the same benefit as direct consumption after eating. No milk around? Eat a piece of cheese instead.
- Onions - Zap Bacteria, Layer by Layer
The raw onion is a potent bacteria-fighting food. Yes, bad breath is the enemy. But that's why sugarless gum and mouthwash were created. Onions have an antimicrobial ingredient that kills bacteria, and, according to one study, completely wipes out four bacteria strains that lead to gum disease and cavities. Sliver them and toss the strips in your salad, on your sandwich and burger or in soups and stews.
- Load Up on Leafy Greens
It’s no secret that salad greens pack an all-around healthy punch, but they’re also especially successful at keeping mouths clean because they’re fiber-packed, meaning they require serious chewing to break down. The extra saliva produced by chewing neutralizes mouth bacteria. High-fiber, stringy foods like raw spinach, celery and even cooked beans offer this benefit.
Frequently Asked Questions about Gingivitis
What's This Sticky Film On My Gums When I Wake Up?
On almost any surface, a thin layer of bacteria known as biofilm can stick. That’s why your gums and teeth feel like they’ve been covered in slime when you wake up in the morning. Biofilm is normal and happens to everyone—even if you brush, floss and rinse with an antibacterial mouthwash. But when you don’t remove the biofilm on a daily basis, it can build and develop into dental plaque.
Dental plaque, which could lead to gum problems, is made up of some bad bacteria (the kind that thrives on sugar left behind on gums and teeth and turns into tooth-decaying acid) and some good bacteria (the kind that makes normal biofilm less enticing to acid-hungry bacteria).
A person with super-solid home oral hygiene routine, who brushes, flosses, and swishes daily, can control and minimize the size of the biofilm, and potentially make it even healthier by increasing the amount of good bacteria it contains. But when you clean and rinse your gums and teeth less frequently, biofilm (typically pale yellow in color) can harden into tartar and gets thicker which only dentists and their professional tools can remove. Stick to your rinsing routine to keep your biofilm in its healthier condition.
What's The Link Between Gum Disease, Gingivitis and Periodontitis?
When you’re concerned about your gums and start researching, it quickly gets confusing, with multiple technical medical terms being used to refer to the same thing—gum infection. Here’s how the terms are linked: Gum disease is the broad-stroke, general term used to describe the bacterial infection in your mouth. Both gingivitis and periodontitis are words used to describe gum disease—but the words are not interchangeable and do not mean exactly the same thing. Gingivitis describes early, mild (and reversible) gum disease, the kind marked by red, swollen gums that bleed easily when brushed or flossed. If gingivitis is not addressed by improved mouth care, it can progress and develop into the more serious (non-reversible) stage of gum disease called periodontitis, which attacks gums, bone and the connective tissue that holds teeth in place, eventually loosening them over time to the point that they could fall out. Gum disease is the leading cause of tooth loss. That’s why it’s best to address gum issues early by hammering down a foolproof rinse routine.
Why Are My Gums Bleeding?
As we age, it’s increasingly common to see a drop or two of blood in the sink after brushing or flossing–so commonplace that many of us convince ourselves it’s not a big deal. But bleeding gums—even during a dentist cleaning—are not normal and not healthy. They’re a sign—possibly along with other often-missed red alerts like puffy, red, irritated gums—of gingivitis (early gum disease). Millions of adults have some form of gum problems, yet only a very small fraction realize it because gum pain is not an early symptom. The good news: early-stage gum disease is reversible, through improved daily mouth care and more frequent visits to the dentist for plaque and tartar removal with professional tools. But left ignored, bleeding gums can progress to serious gum infection (periodontitis) that attacks gums, erodes the jawbone and is the number-one reason teeth fall out. If you’ve spotted droplets, don’t wait another day to start improving your brush, floss and rinse routine.
Why Are My Gums Receding?
You’ve recognized one of the most telltale signs of mid-stage gum problems. And this is not one you want to ignore. When you notice your gum and bone pulling away from your teeth, and more of the lower part of your teeth becomes visible, your gums are receding. Often referred to as shrinking gums, when this happens, the roots of your teeth become exposed to harmful bacteria and your mouth becomes susceptible to a whole host of oral health issues. If accompanied by red, inflamed gums that bleed when brushed, early gum disease is a likely reason. Left untreated, gum recession can have serious, irreversible consequences, such as loss of dentin (hard, dense, bony tissue forming the bulk of a tooth beneath the enamel and keeping your teeth firmly in place), and the exposed roots can become tender, sore or infected.
Does All Mouthwash Treat Gum Disease?
Always check the ingredients on your mouthwash bottle and look for germ-fighting ingredients that combat gum disease, like LISTERINE® Antiseptic Mouthwash (which has eucalyptol, menthol, methyl salicylate and thymol — four essential oils that are clinically proven to kill the germs that cause gum disease). Using antibacterial mouthwash regularly will fight bacteria that can cling to your gums and form plaque. When plaque is not attacked, it can harden into tartar. Some mouthwashes also contain fluoride, which protects teeth from decay.
What Are The Rinsing Rules?
It’s best to use LISTERINE® mouthwash twice daily, as directed. The combination of ingredients in LISTERINE® Antiseptic Mouthwash is extremely effective in killing bacteria above the gum line as well as reducing sticky plaque film and early gum infection (gingivitis), which can lead to serious, advanced gum disease if left unattended. Use LISTERINE® mouthwash twice daily for 24-hour protection from gum disease-causing bacteria.