The delicate gum tissue around our teeth is called the “gingiva.” Gingivitis is the inflammation of (“-itis”) gingival tissues. It’s also the first stage of gum disease and is completely reversible.
It’s estimated that about 50% of people have some form of gum disease. Being that gum infections are directly related to things like tooth loss, cardiovascular disease, pneumonia, and a host of other health conditions, it can help to be familiar with gingivitis symptoms to allow for earlier treatment.
The good news is that gingivitis is both preventable and reversible, as long as you intervene early enough. The bad news is that if left untreated, it can lead to tooth loss.
What are the Symptoms of Gingivitis?
In most people, healthy gingiva is smooth and coral-pink in colour. A very small percentage of individuals will have gums that are dark brown or speckled. Knowing what healthy gums look like can make it easier to self-diagnose conditions like gingivitis.
The most common symptoms of gingivitis are:
- Red, puffy gumlines
- Bleeding when you brush or floss
- Tender gum tissues
Typically, gingivitis symptoms begin to develop within several days of inadequate home care. Perhaps you haven’t been brushing like you ought to or don’t floss regularly. As bacterial colonies of dental plaque start to accumulate at the edges of the gums, your body’s inflammatory process is triggered. Gingivitis is your body’s natural reaction to high levels of bacteria.
Sometimes gingivitis isn’t as noticeable, particularly if someone smokes or uses tobacco products. People with low iron levels (anaemia) may also see less swelling or redness, but still experience bleeding gums when they brush and floss.
Why Do My Gums Bleed When I Floss?
Gingivitis is your body’s natural response to a bacterial infection. As you might guess, the immune system triggers inflammation. When that happens, blood rushes to the area to bring antibodies and fight against the bacteria that are irritating your body in that space. With the increase in blood flow and swelling, tissues become stretched and thin. The lightest touch—whether it’s brushing, flossing, or pressing your fingertip against that area—can trigger bleeding.
Healthy gums do not bleed. If you see bleeding when you brush or floss, that’s your sign to do something before the infection gets worse. Unless gingivitis is intercepted, it can evolve into permanent tissue detachment and bone loss.
Without making floss a daily habit, your gums will likely bleed each time you floss. Flossing helps to clean just under the edges of the gumlines, where plaque tends to accumulate. Since those spaces are fairly tender, they easily bleed if not cleaned on a routine schedule.
Flossing can be difficult for some people. Or simply too uncomfortable. If that’s the case, you can consider investing in a water flosser to clean along the edges of your gums and between your teeth instead of using traditional floss.
What Causes Gingivitis?
In an ideal scenario, there would be no plaque buildup along your teeth and gumlines. But since we eat a few times a day, that’s simply not the case. Each time we put food into our mouths (or liquids other than water) our natural oral biofilm starts to break down the residual food particles. Essentially, they secrete a byproduct that then causes dental plaque (the white, sticky substance on your teeth.)
If plaque is cleaned off at regular intervals through brushing and flossing, it doesn’t cause problems. But if it’s left on the teeth or along the gums for too long, our body sees it as an invasion of bad bacteria. In turn, our immune system tells our bloodstream to start sending antibodies to that area before the bacteria invade the body further. Brushing and flossing are the best solutions as they physically remove the bacteria; otherwise, your body will continue to attack the bacterial infection, resulting in swollen, tender, bleeding gums.
Gingivitis vs. Periodontitis
Periodontal disease, commonly referred to as “periodontitis”, is a condition that causes gum tissues to detract from the teeth, creating large pockets underneath. The underlying bone tissues will also shrink away. It’s characterised by symptoms of:
- Tooth mobility and loss
- Gum recession
- Tartar buildup
- Bad breath
- Bleeding, tender gums
- Spaces between teeth
All cases of periodontitis start as gingivitis. Fortunately, gingivitis is both preventable and reversible. Sadly, if it isn’t treated promptly, periodontitis is soon to follow. Periodontitis is not reversible and is responsible for causing both permanent bone and tooth loss. Early intervention—particularly when it comes to treating gingivitis—is key.
Active periodontal infections don’t just jeopardise the health of your smile. They also strain your immune system and put you at an increased risk for heart disease, diabetes, infertility, and a host of other health conditions. By removing the oral bacteria from your mouth, you’re benefitting both your smile’s future as well as your overall wellness.
Most periodontitis treatments will involve a series of deep cleanings focused on removing bacteria from the deep pockets around the surfaces of the tooth roots. Traditional six-monthly cleanings are not effective against more chronic oral infections, as they are for preventative purposes only.
How to Get Rid of Gingivitis
Gingivitis is typically reversible within two weeks, as long as you treat it properly. Good oral hygiene and thorough cleaning each day are essential. By removing all of the plaque at regular intervals, you can stabilise the areas of infection and reduce the immune response in that space.
Plan on brushing your teeth for a minimum of two minutes twice per day and flossing at least once daily. Since plaque can start to calcify within 24 hours (hardening into tartar) it must be thoroughly removed on a daily basis. Calcified tartar deposits cannot be removed with a brush or floss, which is why periodic dental cleanings are an essential part of your preventative plan.
But not all brushing and flossing is effective. Having the right technique is key!
When brushing, use a soft or extra-soft toothbrush to clean along the inside, outside, and chewing surfaces of your teeth. Pay particular attention to the gumlines. Slightly angle the tips of the toothbrush bristles toward your gums, applying just enough gentle pressure to cause light blanching. Anything too aggressive can be counterproductive. Make small strokes back and forth, focusing on one or two teeth at a time, gradually moving throughout your entire mouth.
If you’re using an electric toothbrush, simply aim the bristles and hold it in place for several seconds. There is no need to scrub back and forth, as doing so might actually reduce plaque removal.
Next, gently slip your floss down in-between your teeth, curving it in a “C” shape against the side of one tooth. Rub up and down several times against the side of the tooth, allowing it to slip just under the edge of the gum tissues. Lift the floss up and over the pointed “papilla” of gum tissue and move to the next tooth. Repeat this process until you’ve cleaned both sides of each tooth throughout your entire mouth.
Again, if flossing is difficult, consider switching to a water flosser instead of using traditional floss. Floss picks are not recommended, as they are difficult to conform to the curved shape of your teeth. In fact, floss picks might cause you to irritate your gums even further.
Remember that your gums may continue to bleed for the first several days of brushing and flossing properly. It typically takes about two weeks before gingivitis symptoms completely reverse. If it’s been two weeks or longer without any improvement, you may have a more aggressive form of gum disease.
How to Prevent Gingivitis
The best way to manage gingivitis is to prevent it! Good oral hygiene habits—including daily brushing and flossing—along with routine preventative cleanings are essential. Ultimately the goal is to remove plaque buildup and prevent tartar accumulation along the gumlines.
Even if you have great oral hygiene habits, it’s common to occasionally miss some plaque buildup here and there. That’s why preventative dental cleanings are essential. During your six-month checkups, we’ll gently remove any tartar buildup that accumulated since your last visit. You’ll get to enjoy a blank slate to care for until it’s time for your next trip to the dentist.
As part of our preventative care services, our dentist, oral health therapist, or hygienist will help you identify specific points in your mouth that might need more attention. We can even discuss various oral hygiene techniques or aids that may make your home routine a bit more effective. Such as floss threaders, proxy brushes, or choosing a different toothbrush.
During each checkup, we’ll assess the health of your gum tissues and existing bone levels. That way if any detachment or bone loss is beginning to develop, we can treat those areas before the infection spreads to adjacent spaces.
Bleeding Gums? Contact Us
If you’re exhibiting symptoms of gingivitis or gum disease, reserve an exam at Hawthorn Road Family Dental. During your visit, we’ll assess your gum health and bone levels to determine if an infection is present. Then we’ll show you how to treat or reverse the condition through preventative care.
Contact us today for a healthier smile tomorrow!