Do your gums bleed when flossing or brushing? You could actually be suffering from gingivitis. At Dr. Janne Lynch’s Scottsdale dental clinic, we work closely with patients who are suffering from mild and more severe cases of gingivitis. Here’s what you need to know about identifying and treating it.

What is gingivitis?

Gingivitis is a type of periodontal disease. Deposits of plaque on the teeth cause gingivitis. Plaque is sticky bacteria that coats teeth and can destroy its enamel. This plaque eventually hardens into another damaging substance called tartar.

Without proper dental hygiene, plaque and tartar can cause gum inflammation. This may eventually affect the softer tooth structures beneath your gumline, leading to cavities, pain, and tooth loss.

What causes gingivitis?

What causes gingivitis in adults is a steady progression of deterioration that begins with poor dental hygiene. Here’s how:

  1. Plaque forms on the teeth: Without daily brushing and flossing, plaque forms on your teeth, trapping sugars and acids that can damage your tooth enamel. This plaque then pools around the gingiva, the area of the gum at the base of your teeth.
  2. Plaque hardens into tartar: The second stage of this condition is when plaque hardens into tartar, becoming resistant to removal with a toothbrush or floss.
  3. Gum inflammation, redness, and irritation develop: In this final stage, tartar builds up and gums can become inflamed, red, and irritated.

While not caused by a steady diet of sugary and acidic food, gingivitis can be accelerated in people who consume sugary beverages (including energy drinks) and acidic foods.

Other Risk Factors

Other risk factors include:

  • Pregnancy: Hormonal changes can lead to softening of the gums
  • Systemic disease: Poorly managed diabetes, for example, can lead to this conditon
  • Medications: Some medications (e.g., antibiotics, phenytoin, bismuth, and certain birth control pills) can increase your risk
  • Other dental work or the general anatomy of your teeth: Braces, uncorrected misalignment, dentures, partial bridges, crowns, and other types of dental work or existing dental structures can contribute to the development of gingivitis
  • Smoking: Smoking can decrease your immunity to infection and can thus contribute to the development of this condition

Gingivitis can impact your entire mouth. Or, it may be confined to areas where brushing and flossing are more difficult. Gums in the back of the mouth are more susceptible to inflammation, as the majority of chewing occurs on each side of the mouth (as opposed to the front teeth). Food particles may also be more likely to get trapped between teeth in the back and sides of the mouth.

What are signs of gingivitis?

Healthy gums are easy to recognize. They are pink and tightly fitted around the base of each tooth. Healthy gums are firm and appear “normal.”

Gums affected by this condition are also easy to spot. Some of the signs of gingivitis include:

  • Dark or bright red gums
  • Bleeding when brushing, even if brushing is gentle
  • Bleeding when flossing
  • Tenderness in the gums when touched (but not at other times)
  • Gum inflammation
  • Gums that appear shiny
  • Mouth sores
  • Chronic bad breath
  • Receding gums

Your symptoms may not be extreme. Often symptoms are mild, and you may not even be aware that you’re having symptoms. Even bleeding and tenderness may not impact a person’s daily activities.

Is gingivitis contagious?

While certain causes are individual (e.g., smoking and diet), the bacterium that cause gingivitis (including Streptococcus mutans, Aggregatibacter actinomycetemcomitans, and Porphyromonas gingivalis) can be passed from person to person. Crazy, right? How contagious it is, however, is controversial.

The American Dental Association does consider gingivitis to be a contagious periodontal disease because the bacteria