The term gingivitis refers to inflammation and infection of the gums. It is also termed non-destructive periodontal disease.
In cases of periodontitis, the gums, the tissues connecting the tooth to the tooth socket (called the periodontal ligament) and the jaw bone containing the sockets of the teeth (called the alveolar bone) are affected. Gingivitis is an earlier and less severe form of periodontitis.
Gingivitis is one of the most common dental problems worldwide, with around 15 to 20% of the world population suffering from it at some point in their lives.
Causes and pathology of gingivitis
Gingivitis is commonly a result of dental plaque developing. Dental plaque is a sticky, thin and colorless biofilm of bacteria and food particles that forms over the teeth.
The plaque sticks to the surfaces of the teeth and gums and the bacteria break down sugars or carbohydrate to produce the energy they need but at the same time produce acid. This acid then erodes the teeth and damages the gums.
Plaque-induced gingivitis is one of the commonest forms of gingivitis.
Complications of gingivitis
If left untreated, gingivitis may progress to the more severe periodontitis. Gum disease can also lead to tooth loss, gum inflammation, abscesses in the jaw bones or gums, and trench mouth.
Trench mouth causes severe bacterial infection of the gums along with the formation of ulcers.
Toothache and gum swelling and pain are common symptoms. Gums may be red, tender to touch and recessing at the lower ends of the teeth. Teeth may also bleed on brushing.
Diagnosis and treatment
Diagnosing the organism causing the infection can be established using culture and microscopic examination. In the early stages, treatment is easier and more likely to save the tooth than when treatment is initiated at later stages of disease.
Mild cases of gum disease can be corrected by improving oral hygiene by brushing and flossing regularly and having the plaque removed by a dental surgeon.
Severe gum disease may require treatment with antibiotics. Medication and sometimes surgery may be needed to treat advanced cases of gingivitis.
Reviewed by Sally Robertson, BSc