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What is gingivitis?

Gingivitis is mild gum disease. It is an infection caused by germs called bacteria. Gingivitis occurs when there is a buildup of plaque (sticky film) on your teeth and gums. Plaque contains bacteria that can irritate your gums, and cause an infection. Without treatment, gingivitis may lead to a more serious form of gum disease called periodontitis. Periodontitis can cause other dental problems, and you may even may even lose your teeth. Gingivitis can be treated with good dental care from your dentist and at home. Gingivitis can go away, but may come back if you do not keep cleaning your teeth properly at home.

What may increase my risk of gingivitis?

  • Not brushing or flossing your teeth every day, or cleaning your teeth well enough to remove plaque.
  • Not visiting your dentist regularly for exams and cleanings.
  • Pregnancy, diabetes, HIV infection, and diseases that decrease your immune system. Your body's immune system fights off infection.
  • Smoking or chewing tobacco, poor diet, and stress.
  • Taking certain types of medicines such as steroids, drugs that treat depression, and birth control pills.
  • Having dental problems that make it hard to remove plaque. This may include bridges or dentures that do not fit right, and crooked teeth.
  • Getting older, and having a family history of gum disease.

What are signs and symptoms of gingivitis?

You may have red, swollen gums. Your gums may or may not be painful. Your gums may bleed when you brush or floss your teeth. Halitosis (bad breath) is worse if you have gingivitis.

How is gingivitis diagnosed?

Your dentist will check your gums for swelling and redness. Your dentist will also use a dental probe to check for bleeding. X-rays may be taken of your mouth and teeth.

How is gingivitis treated?

If your dentist finds that your gingivitis is found early and is not too bad, you may be able to treat it with good dental care at home. In some cases, you may need to visit your dentist more often for special dental cleanings. During these visits, your dentist may need to remove hard plaque from your teeth with special tools. Your dentist may also need to treat any dental problems that make it hard for you to clean your teeth well. Some of these problems include crooked teeth, or bridges and dentures that do not fit right.

How do I care for my teeth at home?

Clean your teeth very well every day to remove plaque. Brush your teeth for at least 2 minutes, twice a day. A battery-powered toothbrush may remove plaque better than a regular toothbrush. You will also need to floss your teeth every day. Your dentist may also ask you to use a special dental rinse. These special rinses may help to reduce plaque and decrease swelling of your gums. If you smoke, you should quit. Smoking increases your risk of getting periodontitis, which can occur if your gingivitis gets worse. Smoking also decreases how well treatments for gum disease work.

How can I help prevent gingivitis?

  • Brush your teeth 2 times a day after meals with fluoride toothpaste.
  • Use dental floss to clean between your teeth at least once a day.
  • Ask your dentist if you should use a dental rinse, and what kind may work best for you.
  • See your dentist regularly for dental cleanings and oral exams.

When should I contact my healthcare provider?

  • The bleeding in your gums gets worse.
  • You cannot use a toothbrush, or you cannot use dental floss.
  • You have a sore or lump on your gums that stays for over 3 weeks.
  • You have a fever.
  • You have 1 or more teeth that are loose for over 3 weeks, and you do not know why.
  • Your face or neck is swollen.
  • Your gums are more painful, or become painful.

When should I seek immediate care or call 911?

  • You have new trouble swallowing.
  • You have trouble breathing.

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You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your healthcare providers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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