According to the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, nearly 53 percent of Americans over the age of 20 have gingivitis. However, it is most common in Hispanic Americans and African Americans, and is overall more commonly seen in men than women. There are a variety of potential causes for gingivitis, including high sugar consumption, malnutrition, mouth-breathing, some medications, and certain health problems.
Gingivitis is inflammation of the gum tissue that can cause redness, tenderness, and tooth sensitivity. After brushing, the gums may bleed or become sore. It typically occurs when bacteria become trapped underneath the gum line, where they are very difficult to remove. In most cases, gingivitis first takes hold in the areas of the mouth that are the hardest to keep clean, such as around the rear molars and in between teeth. Although gingivitis can be reversed, if it is left untreated, it can progress to periodontitis, which cannot be reversed and may eventually lead to other health problems.
Potential Health Risks
If gingivitis is allowed to progress into periodontal disease, it can result in serious issues in not only the mouth but also other parts of the body. Indeed, this stage of the disease can cause the gums to pull away from the teeth and lead to degradation of the jaw bones, making tooth loss a likely scenario. Many studies have also found a strong connection between advanced gum disease and heart disease. This is thought to be caused by the harmful bacteria making their way into the bloodstream and to the heart. A connection between periodontitis and lung disease exists for the same reason.
Another potential risk of unresolved gingivitis is immune suppression. Because the immune system is busy attempting to fight the infection in the gums, the rest of the body is left wide open for other, more serious infections. Furthermore, researchers have found an alarming risk to pregnancy and the developing fetus in women with advanced gingivitis. Studies have found that the bacteria release toxins into the bloodstream that can result in early labor and low birth-weight, which is associated with a number of developmental problems in children.
Last, but certainly not least, is the threat of Alzheimer's disease, a life-threatening neurodegenerative disorder that is becoming increasingly common. Scientists have detected the same bacteria that are responsible for gum disease in the brains of people with Alzheimer's, drawing a possible link between the two problems.
Importance of Prevention
As with most health issues, it's easier to prevent the escalation of gingivitis than treat it after it becomes a serious threat. Eating a wholesome, balanced diet, brushing and flossing every day, and making regular visits to your dentist can go a long way. However, there are other things you can do. Avoid brushing your teeth too hard, use an antiseptic mouthwash, and avoid habits that dry out your mouth, such as smoking. If you are taking medications or have health problems that result in dry mouth, talk to you doctor to see if there are any alternatives or treatments.