We have all probably heard the word thrown around the dental office before, usually with a negative, unenthusiastic, undertone. But do you know what gingivitis is? In Latin it literally means: “gum inflammation”. Inflammation is defined as a localized physical condition in which part of the body becomes red, swollen,hot, and painful, especially as a reaction to injury or infection. So imagine that on your gums! I guess that would explain the negative undertone…
To better illustrate this whole inflammation thing, say that you have a splinter in your finger tip. You finger tip first starts feeling sore,might turn red, and swell up a bit. That, my friends, is inflammation! Your body is trying to get rid of the injury (the splinter) so this is its response. Eventually the splinter will either works itself out, you pull it out, or it gets infected. That’s when pain and grossness reaches a whole new level. So now think of that splinter as the plaque on your teeth. Plaque is a combination of food particles, bacteria, dead skin cells, saliva, etc. (you know, stuff that shouldn’t be on your teeth) If the plaque is not cleaned off your teeth regularly by brushing and flossing it will eventually harden into tarter and cause infection. Plaque and tarter that is not cleaned off the teeth can cause the gums to become irritated, look swollen, red and puffy, and then eventually bleed! (As compared to healthy gums that look pink, are firm, and generally do not bleed when you try to clean) Bleeding of the gums is a signal from your body saying something is wrong. Because of the sensitivity and bleeding of the gums, many patients stop flossing or brushing vigorously which only results in more plaque to build up. This cycle has a tendency to spiral out of control and eventually lead to periodontal disease (more extreme form of gum disease). Trust me, it is not a good time. But have no fear because there is hope!
Preventing gingivitis is very easy! Here is what you can do:
- Brush and floss your teeth everyday
- Limit foods that contribute to plaque build up (sugary foods, processed foods)
- Drink a lot of water everyday
- Recognize what healthy tissue looks like (doesn’t usually bleed)
When the gums do start to bleed then you have to work HARDER on cleaning that area! (via brushing and flossing) Generally, if you stick to these simple, preventive steps you should not have to worry about developing gingivitis. However, if you are experiencing bleeding and it doesn’t improve in a week, then you need to see your dentist so they can help get the plaque and tarter out of there and send you and your healthy, pain-free, gums on your way!