Part of living a healthy lifestyle includes a focus on oral health. We only get one set of permanent teeth, so preventing cavities and gingivitis is critical. But many (preventable) conditions can have similarities that make diagnoses confusing. For example, is gingivitis gum disease? Yes and no.
Let's examine both gingivitis and gum disease to clear up some common misconceptions in the process.
According to the American Dental Association's (ADA) Mouth Healthy site, gum disease is caused by the bacterial plaque that builds on the surface of your teeth and gums, and occurs when the gum tissues around the teeth become infected. This infection of the gums is referred to as gingivitis. But because mouth or tooth pain isn't a symptom, it can be extremely difficult to detect.
Also known as periodontal disease, advanced gum disease can get worse if neglected, leading to periodontitis. This condition can make the gums recede, cause dentures to stop fitting and even loosen permanent teeth.
Gingivitis, on the other hand, is the very first stage of gum disease. Gums that are red, swollen and bleed easily are common indicators. If you have any of these symptoms, you should see a dentist. If caught early enough, gingivitis can be reversed through a professional dental cleaning and good oral hygiene. Using Colgate® Total® Clean Mint toothpaste, for example, treats tender gums while specifically reducing plaque and gingivitis.
No matter how mild or severe your condition is, plaque is generally the main cause. Letting it build up on the surface of your teeth allows it to travel, eventually irritating the gum tissue and causing it to swell. Therefore, not brushing and flossing daily – which prevents plaque buildup on your teeth – can indirectly lead to gingivitis, and more severe cases of gum disease over time.
Other health issues can increase your risk of gum disease as well. These include:
- Smoking/tobacco use
- Medications for epilepsy, cancer and other conditions
- Crooked/misshapen teeth that are difficult to maintain
While causes and symptoms like these are key to defining each condition, there are also numerous popular misconceptions the ADA suggests can mislead those who suffer. Have you assumed any of the following?
- "Gum disease is rare." Take comfort in knowing that it is, in fact, quite common. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says nearly half of adults 30 and older have experienced gum disease.
- "No cavities means no gum disease." Again, false. Gum disease is usually painless, so it's possible to have and not even realize it. Instead, look for visual signs of gum infection.
- "Bad breath indicates gum disease." Not necessarily. See your dentist if you suspect that your breath is severe enough to indicate this condition. If he gives your mouth an otherwise clean bill, your bad breath could be a sign of a medical issue.
- "Pregnant women can ignore bleeding gums." On the contrary, pay attention to it. While pregnancy can often cause blood to appear on gums and in the nose, according to Parents Magazine, not all women suffer from it. Knowing the signs that are unique to gingivitis will help you discern whether or not you can attribute it to pregnancy.
Still others resign themselves to the myth that it will lead to tooth loss. It can, but only if left untreated. Stellar oral health habits, such as daily brushing and flossing, healthy eating and regular dental checkups, is the best way to prevent it from reaching this point.
So, is gingivitis gum disease? All gingivitis is gum disease, but not all gum disease is gingivitis. Recognizing the symptoms and knowing proper treatment methods is the first step to curbing gingivitis' progression, and building a strong foundation for maintaining good oral health.