What is gingivitis (gum disease or periodontal disease)?
Gingivitis (gum disease or periodontal disease) is inflammation of the gingiva (structures in the mouth including the gums, mucous membranes, and fibrous tissue that covers the tooth-containing edge of the jaw). Gingivitis is commonly termed gum disease and medically termed periodontal disease. Gingivitis is considered to be the early stage of periodontal disease by some investigators. The majority of individuals with gingivitis have bacteria under the gingival area, and these bacteria cause inflammation. Some bacteria that play a role in gingivitis also play a role in causing cavities.
Is gingivitis contagious?
The answer is controversial and depends on what experts you ask. For example, many factors that lead to the disease are due to actions taken by the individual (examples include poor dental hygiene, no flossing of teeth, stress, hard to clean crooked teeth, smoking, medications like steroids and some antiseizure medications, and a poor diet containing heavy amounts of sugar and carbohydrates). However, researchers have shown that gingivitis-causing bacteria (including Streptococcus mutans, Aggregatibacter actinomycetemcomitans, Porphyromonas gingivalis) can be passed from parents to children and exchanged between men and women living together by sharing silverware, utensils, saliva, drinking cups, and other items. Theoretically, it may be transmitted or spread by kissing.
Currently, the American Dental Association considers gingivitis to be contagious. However, other factors such as those described above usually need to be present for an individual to develop gingivitis.
If one sides with those who consider gingivitis is mainly due to actions taken by an individual, then one sides with those who think gingivitis is not contagious. However, if one agree with the reasons established by the American Dental Association, then one sides with those who think gingivitis is contagious. There is a middle ground for some who think gingivitis occurs when certain factors are present in an individual (such as when the gingivitis-causing bacteria are present in an individual with poor dental hygiene, etc.).
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Gum Disease Treatment
The goals of treatment for gingivitis are to identify and eliminate the factors that are making the person more susceptible to gum disease. Most factors can be eliminated by establishing more consistent and thorough oral hygiene habits and professional dental cleanings. If there are certain risk factors such as smoking or uncontrolled diabetes that are contributing to the gum disease, they need to be addressed or eliminated to have success in reversing gingivitis.
How does gingivitis spread?
The American Dental Association suggests that initial spread of those gingivitis-causing bacteria (and many others) spread from mothers to their children. Children by the age of 3 are about 26 times more likely to have gingivitis-causing bacteria such as A. actinomycetemcomitans if their mothers have that strain of bacterium in their mouths. Similarly, cohabiting men and women develop similar bacterial populations. The spread of these organisms to other people occurs through sharing utensils, food, kissing, and other direct and indirect physical contacts.
How will one know if he or she has gingivitis?
For many people, there will be few if any symptoms, and these individuals will not know they have gingivitis for years. Once bacteria begin to cause inflammation, the symptoms of gingivitis may begin to appear as early as a week, but the incubation period is highly variable and depends on both colonization by bacteria that cause gingivitis and other factors that stimulate the growth of these bacteria. Consequently, it could take years for gingivitis to develop in certain individuals. Gingivitis is usually diagnosed during a dental checkup or tooth cleaning. However, some people may develop symptoms of bad breath, swollen gums, receding gums, gums that bleed when an individual flosses or brushes their teeth, and/or develop a reddish coloration of the gums instead of the normal pinkish gum coloration. These are symptoms and signs that suggest that gingivitis is occurring.
How will someone know when he or she no longer has gingivitis?
Fortunately, gingivitis is reversible in most individuals.
How do you get rid of gingivitis?
Dental care with tooth cleaning, plaque removal, and advice about how to avoid gingivitis is important. Dentists will advise people to avoid sugary drinks and food, stop smoking, and to reduce stress. Some individuals may require a change in their medications. Although it may be impossible to remove all of the bacteria that cause the gingivitis, gingivitis can be stopped and reversed. Consequently, gingivitis is reversible. When symptoms of gingivitis resolve, an individual should have relatively normal-appearing gum structures. This may take weeks or months with more than one dental visit.
When should someone seek medical care for gingivitis?
Although gingivitis is not a medical emergency, the following problems should cause an individual to seek dental care:
- Red and/or swollen tender gums
- Gums that bleed easily with tooth brushing
- Persistent bad breath or a bad taste in the mouth
- Gums that have receded or pulled away from the teeth
- Changes in the way one's teeth or dentures fit when biting down
- Teeth that are becoming loose
- Any lesions that develop on or in the gums
It is important to have a dentist or medical caregiver investigate these problems to distinguish between gingivitis and other even more severe conditions.
Medically Reviewed on 8/2/2016
"Gum Disease." MouthHealthy.org.
United States. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "Periodontal Disease." Mar. 10, 2015.