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Gum Health Warning Sign: Gingivitis

Cavities can sneak up on people. Even the most careful patient can get dental caries. Most people in the U.S. will have at least one cavity at one time in their life, and they may be surprised– they had no idea until their dentist in Portland showed them an x-ray, or during their exam.

Not so with gingivitis. There are people– distracted people– who might not notice the symptoms of gingivitis, but for most folks this is a wildly waving flag of alarm that their dental health needs work. Dental health professionals aren’t the only people who see this warning flag; patients can see it as well. It can be an opportunity to take charge of your dental health.

Quick and dirty gum health tutorial

There may be a lot of focus on teeth– and the cavities we’re working to prevent happening there– but in reality, our gum health is just as critical. In the health profession, our gum tissue is called gingiva, and it is responsible for supporting our teeth.

Gums hold our teeth within our jaw bones. They form a tight seal around the base of the tooth to protect the root from bacterial invasion that could lead to tooth loss or even bone damage. They also support the healthy ecosystem of symbiotic bacteria that work against disease causing bacteria like streptococcus mutans.

Healthy gums are smooth and light pink (although they do sometimes have pigmentation, which is normal for that individual and does not indicate a problem). Pink, healthy gums are not what we see in gingivitis.

The disease process

Gingivitis means inflammation of the gingiva. Essentially, by its definition this means that gingivitis is your body’s immune reaction (inflammation) to the irritation caused by bacteria. When bacterial plaques take up residence at the juncture between your gum line and your tooth, the acid produced from bacterial metabolism doesn’t only harm dental enamel– it really impacts your gums too! Faced with this acid attack, your gums quickly become irritated.

How might one notice that their gums are getting irritated? Usually, dentists and patients notice the four hallmarks of inflammation: redness, swelling, heat (this is more subtle), and pain. Looking in the mirror, gums will appear darker red instead of their healthy pink, and they may often bleed with brushing or flossing.

Foreshadowing and prevention

Disturbing as it may sound, gingivitis is actually informative: it tells us our gums need better care. But it does foreshadow a worse disease process: periodontitis.

Periodontitis is serious, advanced gum disease. In it, the gums have begun to pull away from the the roots of your teeth, which can weaken teeth within the jaw, raising the risk of tooth loss. Receding gums expose the softer dentin beneath the gum line, leading to tooth sensitivity, pain, and higher risk of decay. Periodontitis can even cause bone loss or abscesses in extreme cases.

Gingivitis, on the other hand, is completely reversible. You just need to care for your gums. Brushing twice a day for at least two minutes and flossing at least once is the starting point, but if you want to really pamper your gums floss every meal, invest in a water pick! And remember, electric toothbrushes tend to do a better job for your gums than the conventional kind.

Keep up with your gum health together with your dentist in Portland. Schedule your next appointment today!

Photo Credit: Kris Krug via Compfight cc

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