Normal, healthy gums should be firmly attached to the teeth and underlying bone. Normal gums are pale pink in light-skinned people. They are brown, gray or mottled in people with darker complexions. If you have gingivitis, your gums are inflamed, red and swollen. They will bleed easily and may be tender.
Mild gingivitis causes little or no pain. You might not notice it. If left unchecked, however, it can become severe. In some people, gingivitis develops into periodontitis, which can lead to tooth loss.
Plaque is a sticky film that collects on your teeth, especially in crevices and spaces or around rough or broken fillings. The bacteria in plaque produce substances that can harm the gums. If plaque is not removed, it hardens. In this form it's called calculus, or tartar. Calculus irritates the gums. It also provides more surfaces that bacteria can bind to and grow. Gingivitis results from the gums' response to the growth of bacteria.
Gum disease in general and gingivitis in particular are common. Almost 3 out of 4 adults over the age of 35 have some form of gum disease. Certain groups have an especially high risk:
Certain prescription drugs can cause gums to grow too much and become inflamed. These include:
- Anti-seizure medicines, such as Dilantin
- Drugs that suppress the immune system, such as cyclosporine (Neoral, Sandimmune)
- Some blood-pressure medicines (calcium channel blockers)
Make sure your dentist knows the medicines you are taking. It's possible that one or more of them may be contributing to your gingivitis.
Have your teeth professionally cleaned every six months to one year. This can help to prevent plaque from becoming calculus. The cleaning also will remove calculus that has already formed.
If gingivitis turns into periodontitis, you will need additional treatment.
American Academy of Periodontology
737 N. Michigan Avenue
Chicago, IL 60611-6660