Gingivitis: Get Serious About Sore Gums

If you’ve noticed that your gums are a little red and sore, don’t brush it off. You might have gingivitis, the first sign of gum disease.

Most people get gingivitis at some point in their lives, and its mild symptoms make it easy to ignore. But without treatment, it can turn into bigger problems for your mouth. The good news is you can reverse or even prevent it by simply brushing your teeth, flossing, and maintaining regular dental cleanings and check-ups.

What Causes Gingivitis?

When you forget to brush, floss, and rinse with mouthwash, a sticky film of bacteria and food called plaque builds up around your teeth. The gunk releases acids that attack your teeth’s outer shell, called enamel, and cause decay. After 72 hours, plaque hardens into tartar, which forms along the gum line and makes it hard to clean your teeth and gums completely. Eventually this buildup irritates and inflames your gums, causing gingivitis.

What Are the Symptoms?

You can have gingivitis and not know it. Over time you may notice:

  • Red, swollen, or purplish gums. Healthy gums should appear pink and firm.
  • Bleeding gums. You may see blood on your toothbrush or when you spit out toothpaste.
  • Sore gums that are tender to the touch

If you think you may have gingivitis, you can take some simple steps to reverse it. Start by looking at your oral health habits to figure out where you could do better. Do you always skip brushing before bed or forget to floss? If so, put reminder notes on the bathroom mirror.

Mouthwash is a big help in treating the disease. Make sure you use one that’s labeled as antigingivitis, antibacterial, or antiseptic. If you can’t remember which kind to buy, ask a pharmacist for help.

If it's been 6 months since you last saw the dentist, set up a cleaning to remove tartar and plaque buildup from your teeth. Ask your dentist about the proper way to brush -- bearing down too hard or missing spots can lead to gingivitis. After a cleaning, your gums should get better within a week or so as long as you brush twice a day, and floss and rinse once a day.

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How Can I Prevent Gingivitis?

To keep your mouth healthy, the American Dental Association says you should:

1. Brush your teeth twice a day. Use a soft-bristled brush and fluoride toothpaste. Replace your toothbrush every 3 months or sooner if the bristles become frayed. Old, worn out ones won't clean teeth as well.

2. Floss every day. Don’t wait until something gets stuck between your teeth. Daily flossing gets plaque out of places your toothbrush can't reach. Don’t like flossing? Try interdental cleaners, picks, or small brushes that fit in between teeth. Ask your dentist how to use them so you don't damage your gums.

3. Rinse your mouth out. Antibacterial mouthwash not only prevents gingivitis, it fights bad breath and plaque. Ask your dentist which mouthwash would work best for you.

4. Visit your dentist every 6 months. Once tartar forms on your teeth, only your dentist or hygienist can remove it. Depending on your overall oral health and risk factors, you may need to see him more often.

5. Eat healthy foods. Bacteria in your mouth feed on sugars and starches from food, fueling them to release the acids that attack tooth enamel. Junk food and candy have a lot of extra sugar and starch. Avoid them to keep your teeth and gums healthy.

6. If you smoke, quit. Not only is smoking bad for your heart and lungs, it can also harm your teeth and gums. Smoking or using smokeless tobacco can make you more likely to get severe gum disease, which can lead to tooth loss.

Brush, floss, rinse, and repeat. Gingivitis can come back any time. So build good oral care habits, and stick with them.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Michael Friedman, DDS on July 27, 2016

Sources

SOURCES:

Nadeem Karimbux, DMD, assistant dean, office of dental education, Harvard School of Dental Medicine, Boston.

PubMed Health: "Gingivitis."

American Dental Association: "Plaque," "Mouthrinses," "Smoking and Tobacco Cessation," "Brushing Your Teeth (Cleaning Your Teeth and Gums)."

Merck Manual: Home Health Handbook: "Gingivitis."

Genco, R. "Periodontal Disease and Overall Health: A Clinician's Guide."

Research, Science, and Therapy Committee of the American Academy of Periodontology.

Journal of Periodontology, "Epidemiology of Periodontal Diseases," 2005.

American Academy of Periodontology: "Causes of Gum Disease," "Gum Disease and Diabetes."

National Institutes of Health: "Periodontal Diseases."

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