Have you ever experienced red, swollen or bleeding gums? You’re not alone. This is known as gingivitis — a common, chronic inflammatory disease in the mouth, and the mildest form of gum disease. It’s so prevalent, in fact, 47.2% of all adults in the U.S. aged 30 years or older show signs of gum disease.

Gingivitis occurs when plaque, a naturally occurring sticky film of bacteria, builds up on the surface of teeth and along the gum line. As a result, the surrounding gum tissue becomes inflamed and irritated. Left untreated, gingivitis can advance to a more serious form of gum disease, called periodontitis. As the disease progresses, symptoms become more severe, including receding gums, bone deterioration and even tooth loss.

The good news is that when detected early, most symptoms of gingivitis can be reversed. Start by understanding the early signs of gum disease and what you can do to prevent it.

Early Signs of Gingivitis

If you notice the following signs of gingivitis, call your dentist right away:

  • Red, swollen gums: Healthy gums are pink and firm. Gums irritated by plaque and tartar appear red, swollen and inflamed. They may even feel tender and sore.
  • Bleeding gums: Irritated and inflamed gums are more likely to bleed. Frequently noticing blood in the sink when brushing or flossing is a good sign of gingivitis.
  • Tooth pain or sensitivity: As gum disease progresses, gums may start to pull from the teeth. Exposed teeth are more sensitive to hot and cold foods or beverages.
  • Bad breath: Since plaque contains millions of foul-smelling bacteria, chronic bad breath may be one sign of gingivitis.
  • Loose teeth: If the disease has progressed far enough, you may notice loose teeth or a change in your bite.

Preventing and Treating Gingivitis

Some people may have a higher risk of developing gingivitis due to medical issues, family history and genetics. For many others, gingivitis begins with poor oral hygiene habits, which is within your control.

By simply focusing on your brushing and flossing habits, you can significantly improve your gum health by removing harmful plaque and bacteria from the surfaces of your teeth and gums. If you are showing signs of gum disease, your dentist may recommend that you use an antiseptic mouthwash regularly to improve your gum health and decrease your gingivitis.

In addition to your at-home routine, it is imperative to schedule regular visits with your dentist for checkups and cleanings. Your dentist can monitor your gums, identify early signs of gum disease, and provide the best course of treatment should your gums become inflamed.

Bottom line: Symptoms of gingivitis are generally mild compared to periodontitis. That’s why it is so important to stay on top of your daily oral hygiene and scheduled visits with your dentist to help prevent serious complications from more advanced forms of gum disease.

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