Gingivitis

  • Definition

    Gingivitis is inflammation of the gums (gingiva).


    Alternative Names

    Gum disease; Periodontal disease


    Causes, incidence, and risk factors

    Gingivitis is a form of periodontal disease. Periodontal disease involves inflammation and infection that destroys the tissues that support the teeth, including the gums, the periodontal ligaments, and the tooth sockets (alveolar bone).

    Gingivitis is due to the long-term effects of plaque deposits. Plaque is a sticky material made of bacteria, mucus, and food debris that develops on the exposed parts of the teeth. It is a major cause of tooth decay. If you do not remove plaque, it turns into a hard deposit called tartar that becomes trapped at the base of the tooth. Plaque and tartar irritate and inflame the gums. Bacteria and the toxins they produce cause the gums to become infected, swollen, and tender.

    Injury to the gums from any cause, including overly vigorous brushing or flossing of the teeth, can cause gingivitis.

    The following raise your risk for developing gingivitis:

    • General illness
    • Poor dental hygiene
    • Pregnancy (hormonal changes increase the sensitivity of the gums)
    • Uncontrolled diabetes

    Misaligned teeth, rough edges of fillings, and ill-fitting or unclean mouth appliances (such as braces, dentures, bridges, and crowns) can irritate the gums and increase the risk of gingivitis.

    Medications such as phenytoin and birth control pills, and heavy metals such as lead and bismuth are also associated with gingivitis.

    Many people have gingivitis to a varying degree. It usually develops during puberty or early adulthood due to hormonal changes and may persist or recur frequently, depending on the health of your teeth and gums.