Since you’ve been locked indoors for much of the spring and possibly even some of this summer, you’ve probably been watching more YouTube videos than is your norm. If so, you may have come across some comedy videos about redheaded people (deemed “gingers”) having no soul. If you haven’t, ask your teenage or college-age son (who’s also stuck at home) to explain.

But the term “gingivitis” has nothing to do with redheads or people with any other hair color. It’s the dental term used to describe the beginning stage of gum disease.

Gingivitis is a scary sounding word, making it perfect for advertising. And if you’re over 30, that’s likely where you first heard the word — in Listerine commercials. In its ads for many decades, the trusty mouthwash promises to help fight off the terrors of gingivitis.

But what is gingivitis? And is it really as bad as the commercials make it sound?

Here’s a little primer on gingivitis from your friends at Dental Arts of Hedgesville.

What is gingivitis?

Yes, the word alone sounds kind of terrifying. But gingivitis actually means nothing more than “gum inflammation.” Plaque is the main culprit in this irritation. Plaque is the film that forms on the teeth throughout the day consisting of bacteria, bacterial waste products, food residue, and saliva. When you brush and floss you remove the plaque. Then it starts to rebuild, only to be removed again when you brush.

But if you neglect your oral hygiene the plaque can develop beneath the gumline, where it is very irritating to your gums. If allowed to stay there, the plaque hardens into tartar, causing more persistent irritation. While the term “irritation” sounds innocent enough, if this irritation is allowed to continue and progress, it leads to gum disease, clinically known as periodontitis. Now that word actually IS scary because of what it will lead to in dental problems.

What are the signs of gingivitis?

Gum irritation is easy to spot. Your gums should be pink all over, basically like a wad of Double Bubble gum. There shouldn’t be any areas that are bright red, as this is a sign of irritation.

Your gums should also lie flat against the teeth; inflamed gums tend to recede and pull away from the teeth. Your gums will also be prone to bleeding and this shouldn’t normally happen if you’re using a soft toothbrush. Bleeding is a sign of inflammation. And finally, as in the commercials, your breath will reek. The commercials get this part right — your bad breath is caused by bacteria that is being left to its own devices by your poor oral hygiene.

Gingivitis treatments

To keep your gums healthy and keep gingivitis at bay, it all starts with good home hygiene. Beyond that, Dr. Smith treats gingivitis with these treatments:

  • Prophylactic cleaning

Twice-yearly cleanings with our office are the first step. Why twice a year? That generally is the time it takes to start forming tartar and other issues that lead to decay. During these cleanings and checkups, not only will those problem areas receive a thorough cleaning, but we will also point them out to you for more attentive care at home.

  • Scaling

If you have a fair amount of tartar built up under your gumline, we will scrape it off with dental tools. This is called scaling, and depending how much we have to do, we may give you a local anesthesia.

  • Root planing

If Dr. Smith opts for root planing, any tiny grooves or pits are removed from the tooth roots to make it easier for the gums to adhere and stop receding. This is done in multiple appointments with local anesthesia.

So, don’t let the commercials scare you. Gingivitis is easy to spot and then address before it becomes gum disease. Twice yearly exams and cleanings with the team at Dental Arts of Hedgesville are part of that defense. Call us at (304) 754-8803 for your next appointment.

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