Lately when you brush your teeth, you have noticed that your gums are a bit swollen and red, and even a little painful to the touch. When you ask your dentist about it, he says that you have gingivitis—a very common type of gum disease.
What Causes Gingivitis?
If teeth aren’t brushed properly, plaque can form. When plaque remains on your teeth for too long, it hardens into tartar (it only takes a couple of days for this to happen). Plaque and tartar that stay on your teeth give bacteria a place to grow—all of this leads to gum irritation, which soon becomes gingivitis.
However, there are other factors besides poor oral hygiene that can lead to gingivitis. Those with a family history of gum problems, and those with diabetes, are more likely to have gum disease.
It can also be caused by:
- Poor nutrition
- A reaction to medication
- Dry mouth
- Tobacco use
- Substance abuse
- A viral or fungal infection
- Hormonal changes
How Gingivitis Is Bad for Your Mouth
Although it might just seem like an annoyance and nothing worse, gingivitis is something you should pay attention to. If left untreated, gingivitis can cause a variety of health issues. For one thing, gingivitis, which is a mild case of gum disease, may lead to periodontitis, a serious case of gum disease that can lead to tooth loss.
And unfortunately, periodontitis isn’t the worst kind of gingivitis. As you may guess by the unpleasant name, acute necrotizing ulcerative gingivitis can be even worse. (“Necrotizing” means the death of tissue and “ulcerative” refers to the sores that develop on the gums.) This is caused by an excessive build up of plaque, which can lead to a proliferation of microorganisms in the mouth.
Besides red and swollen gums, a bad taste in the mouth, and bad breath, this kind of extreme gingivitis can come with gums that are an unhealthy grey color. It can also make you feel sick, with a sore throat and even a fever. This gum disease is most often seen in teenagers or those in their early 20s. Besides poor oral hygiene, acute necrotizing ulcerative gingivitis can be caused by stress, smoking, poor diet, a poor immune system, and other infections.
How Gingivitis Is Bad for Your Health
Researchers think gingivitis can lead to even worse problems—problems that affect more than just your mouth. Bacteria in the mouth from gingivitis and periodontitis can easily get into the bloodstream and cause damage to organs. The list of potential problems this bacteria can cause is long. Periodontitis may lead to an increased risk of stroke, heart attack, heart disease, dementia, rheumatoid arthritis, and lung disease. Some studies also show that women with periodontitis have a greater chance of giving birth to babies with low birth weight, or even premature babies, than women with healthy gums.
It may be hard for you to see the connection between unhealthy gums and heart problems. But when it is so easy to take care of your teeth and gums, why risk it?
It is never too late to develop good dental habits—brush twice a day, floss once a day, use an antibacterial mouthwash, and make sure to visit your dentist twice a year so that plaque doesn’t have a chance to build up on your teeth.
However, if you are susceptible to gum disease, good oral hygiene may not be enough. You should also quit smoking and eat a well-balanced diet. And, although this is easier said then done, it is also a good idea to try to reduce the stress in your life—too much stress makes it harder for your body to fight off any infection gingivitis may cause.