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Dental Health: How to Treat Gingivitis

Updated on July 13, 2011

What is Gingivitis?

Gingivitis is a dental disease that involves the gums surrounding the teeth.  It is caused by the presence of plaque bacteria building up on the teeth around the gum margin.  The bacteria cause irritation to the gums which leads to the body’s immune system responding with an inflammatory reaction.

Gingivitis is part of a spectrum of dental diseases affecting the periodontium.  The periodontium refers to all the supporting structures around the teeth – the bone, the gums, and soft tissues.  Gingivitis is one of the milder diseases affecting the periodontium however if left unchecked, it can advance to more severe periodontal disease.  It should be differentiated from another form of gingivitis called “Acute Necrotising Ulcerative Gingivitis” (ANUG) which is a severe dental infection of the gums involving fever and halitosis (bad breath) in addition to the painful ulcerations and swelling of the gums.

The mouth is a dynamic environment that is filled with bacteria.  When proper measures are taken (such as the practice of good oral hygiene), the bacteria can live with the host (the individual) in relative harmony without causing disease.  Certain bacteria like to colonise the teeth, particularly the areas around the gum margins and in between the teeth.  If they are allowed to build up in sufficient quantities, they cause irritation to the gums that lead to swelling and bleeding.  The undisturbed plaque will eventually calcify (usually over two to three days without brushing or flossing) and form a protective place for more bacteria to grow.

Aside from poor oral hygiene measures, there are certain conditions that also increase the risk of developing gingivitis, such as pregnancy, uncontrolled diabetes and general illness. 

Signs and Symptoms of Gingivitis

Some of the common signs and symptoms of gingivitis include swelling of the gums, softened gums, bleeding gums (which occur when you brush or floss), halitosis (bad breath), change in gum colouration to a darker red, and possible tenderness to the gums.  Because gingivitis is mild and often painless, many individuals may have the condition without realising it.

Usually, a good indication that you have gingivitis is when you see a pinkish stain on your toothbrush after brushing which indicates that your gums have been bleeding.  If you look into the mirror, you may also notice that your gums are slightly puffy and reddish.  Healthy gums are pale pink and meet the teeth with a knife edge.

Treatment for Gingivitis

If you already have gingivitis, there are several things you can do to resolve the problem:

1. Visit your dentist regularly for oral check-ups.

Ideally you should see your dentist once every six months or, at minimum, once every two years. Your dentist will be able to give your mouth a thorough clean and remove plaque from around the teeth and gums.

A visit to the dentist will also be a good opportunity for the dentist to check and fix any broken fillings and to fill any teeth that have cavities. If your teeth are poorly aligned or if your fillings have rough edges, it can make it harder for you to clean your teeth properly. Your dentist can help you resolve this problem.

2. Brushing and flossing.

It is important to make sure that you brush and floss your teeth thoroughly at least once everyday day (although it is better if you brush more frequently). Proper brushing should take at least two minutes.

You should use a toothbrush with a small head and soft bristles and make sure you change your toothbrush once every three months.

Floss between your teeth at least once a day and use an interdental cleaner between the teeth with bigger gaps.

3. Use a mouth rinse.

Certain mouth rinses can help to facilitate brushing and keep the bacteria from building back up quickly. Mouth rinses that contain chlorhexidine, triclosan and/or fluoride can help to delay the build up of plaque bacteria back onto the teeth.

Active ingredients like triclosan have been shown to delay plaque build up after brushing for as long as twelve hours.

Care must be taken when using mouth rinses containing chlorhexidine as excessive usage can lead to a temporary loss of taste sensation (usually after ten days of continuous use) and potential yellowing of the teeth and soft tissues in the mouth.

4. Take care of yourself.

The risk of developing gingivitis has also been shown to increase if you are unwell therefore it is important to look after yourself. Make sure you eat well and get plenty of rest as an overtired and poorly nourished body will not be able to cope with the stresses of a bacterial infection.

It is easy to prevent gingivitis and just as easy to treat it. Although gingivitis is a fairly mild condition that often has no loss of function or pain associated with it, nevertheless it is important to treat it. Allowing gingivitis to continue can lead to more severe dental diseases involving the supporting tissues around the teeth. These may lead to loosening of the teeth, abscesses and other associated dental problems.

Preventing Gingivitis

To prevent gingivitis, it is important to maintain good oral hygiene practices - that includes brushing and flossing your teeth at least once a day (or more frequently if possible). Proper brushing and flossing helps to remove plaque build up around the gum margins. It is important to brush regularly as plaque quickly builds up within twenty-four hours after cleaning. Left undisturbed for two to three days and it will calcify to form tartar – a hardened, yellow deposit that only your dentist can remove.

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