Gingivitis is so common it’s likely you’ve been kissing someone with it for weeks!
Of the last three people you spoke with, it’s likely you and two others have gingivitis right now. That’s because it affects over 75% of the population.
Don’t go off the deep end with worry, but gingivitis is a sign that your mouth needs attention.
What Is Gingivitis?
Gingivitis means inflamed or irritated gums (‘gingiva’ means gums, and ‘itis’ means inflammation or irritation of ). It’s caused by physical trauma, bacteria and medication side effects.
You can get irritated gums from a toothbrush that’s too hard, or even from coarse foods. The toothbrush or food related scuffing and scraping of gums causes irritation, but it’s not the cause of the more serious gingivitis that has whole-body bacteria-flooding effects.
What Are The Signs Of Gingivitis?
Take out a mirror at your next opportunity, or get close up to a bathroom mirror and take a peek at your gums.
Do you see a little red ring of gum encircling your teeth?
Do you see a shiny appearance to your gums? You might have to dab at the gums with a tissue, to dry them a bit, to see this.
If you push gently on the gums between your teeth are they squishy or soft?
Do they bleed when you push on them?
Do you have sore gums to the touch?
Pick up your dry toothbrush. Gently press the bristles against your teeth pointing them toward the gums. Wiggle the brush back and forth a few times allowing the bristles to work their way into the crevice between the tooth and the gums a little bit. Stop and wait for 5 seconds. Do you see any bleeding.
Now try the same thing, using some dental floss between your teeth. Wait 5 seconds. Does that make your gums bleed?
Ask a real friend, if your breath stinks?
If you’ve answered yes to any of the questions above, you’ve got gingivitis.
You’ve Got A Bacteria Party Going On
The most common type of gingivitis is caused by bacteria. These little creatures are living on the gums and in the crevices between tooth and gums. Under a microscope you’ll see all types of bacteria swimming, floating, and doing the backstroke in the saliva between teeth and gums. There are millions of them.
Fortunately, most of the 700+ types of bacteria you are likely to have in your mouth are not harmful. They thrive without causing any major problems. But there are a few that stir up trouble.
Your body’s job is to recognize troublesome bacteria and destroy them. It’s when your body is fighting bacteria, on your behalf, that you see all of the signs of gingivitis mentioned above.
- Redness of gums
- Swollen shiny gums
- Squishy gums
- Bleeding gums when pressed
- Bleeding gums when brushed
- Bleeding gums when flossed
- Bad breath
When Really Serious Gingivitis Occurs
When a few bacterial bad actors start showing up, the corkscrew shaped bacteria in particular, you’ve really got your hands full. You’ll know they are present in large numbers when the signs above become worse, your breath turns foul or in rare cases, you develop a fever. The odor is from dying gums and it’s not to be ignored.
The corkscrew shaped bacteria have the unique ability to screw themselves into living gum cells, eventually destroying them. These corkscrew shaped bacteria, called spirochetes, are similar to a bacteria type that causes syphilis, an STD (sexually transmitted disease). Both of these bacteria can drill there way into body tissue.
Bacteria are notorious for the ability to be easily transmitted from person to person on surfaces, on foods, by sneezing, coughing and the use of any shared items.
Can I Catch Gingivitis From Someone Else?
I know you are dying to ask the question, “Can I catch gingivitis from someone else?” The short answer is YES! You can “catch” gingivitis causing bacteria from someone else. A single French kiss, scientists tell us, can result in the sharing of 80 million bacteria (1).
But, if you are taking much better care of your teeth and gums you don’t have to suffer the same damaging effects. You might be fighting a losing battle though, because the longer a couple is intimate, the more similar they become with regard to bacteria.
Internationally recognized holistic dentist, David Kennedy DDS, emphasizes you get these particularly bad bacteria from “mothers, lovers and dogs.” So if you have a partner get them checked out for gingivitis too. So if you are still asking is gingivitis contagious? I would have to say yes.
Can I Change The Bacteria Living In My Mouth?
Sure, this happens every time you are intimate with someone else. You change bacteria by exposure to someone else’s bacteria through kissing or other intimacy. The longer you are intimate over period of days, weeks or months the more similar your oral bacteria will be.
This occurs with babies shortly after they are born. Initially they are virtually sterile but are gradually exposed to more and more bacteria from mom, family and pets too.
Pets are a great source of bacteria, especially if you play kissy-face with them and get tagged with a sloppy tongue. Some pet owners love it and others are quite a bit more restrained. I favor the latter more restrained group.
Bacteria compete for turf in your mouth.
By deliberately changing the type of bacteria within your mouth you may put pressure on moving bad bacteria out of the neighborhood. The bad ones causing more gingivitis, might be replaced with with good bacteria that are not as destructive or harmful. Study in this area is constantly evolving, but there are some promising results.
Your Are What You Eat
Of the different ways that you could alter the bacteria mix in your mouth, one of the easiest and safest is making some healthful dietary changes. Advocates of fermented foods will have many possibilities for you to consider, with literally hundreds of recipes for fermented and cultured foods available for you to consider.
Foods containing active bacteria cultures are found in current day people groups around the world. They have also been used throughout history.
The Romans ate sauerkraut, or cabbage fermented with salt before it was called sauerkraut. Many ancient Asian cultures ate a variety of fermented vegetables and still consume them today. Ukrainians eat yogurt, fermented cabbage and cultured buttermilk. Kefir, a milk derived product produced with kefir “grains” is a favorite of the Bulgarians.
Start by eating a slightly different diet, including foods with active cultures. Foods like this might be soft cheeses, yogurt and fermented foods like sauerkraut, and kombucha. Your gut bacteria are also affected by what you eat and can have tremendous effect on your overall health. (2)
Probiotics Can Change How Cavity Prone You Are
Another way to change the type of bacteria in your mouth would be to take probiotic supplements. Probiotics are designed to incorporate a variety of different types of bacteria for different purposes. They are available as powders, capsules and liquids.
Specific supplements are now available to change the type of bacteria in your mouth to reduce cavities. And early research looks like it’s working. Lactobacillus reuteri is the cavity fighter. It has been used to treat gut infections and abnormal gut overgrowths of nasty bacteria. L. reuteri produces an antibiotic that kills off bad bacteria which could explain some of its beneficial results. It appears to kill off Strep. mutans, the primary cavity causing bacteria. It is available as gum and chewable tablets for cavity reduction.
The next step to look at is one that requires no major changes to diet or supplementation efforts. It is not trendy but it is of utmost importance.
Are Gingival Hyperplasia and Gingivitis The Same Thing?
No, they are different. Gingival hyperplasia means that the gums have enlarged by increasing the number of gum cells. The irritation of gingivitis can, in certain circumstances, cause this type of gum overgrowth. It can occur in pregnancy due to the hormonal changes and inadequate tooth brushing and flossing. It also accompanies the use of certain prescription medications. Excellent home efforts can turn the corner on bacterial gingivitis and minimize the overgrowth tendency.
How To Get Rid Of Gingivitis
Since bacteria are the cause, you need to get rid of bacteria. Bacteria love leftover food on teeth so here are some tips that will remove both the food and gingivitis causing bacteria.
- 1. Brush with one of the best toothbrushes available, in my opinion, the ultra-soft Nimbus brush. Your tender gums need the softest brush possible.
- 2. Brush gently with baking soda, it’s essential. It’s an ingredient in a few toothpastes, but you can use it by itself too.
- 3. Brush with coconut oil, with or without baking soda. I see the best results, however, when they are used together.
- 4. Brush with hydrogen peroxide, baking soda and salt. Another time honored method suggested years ago (1978) by a Dr. Paul Keyes. It tastes yucky, but works very well. Again, use the ultra-soft brush mentioned above to avoid scuffing your gums.
Be your own best advocate for your health; be engaged and ask questions.
We, as dentists and hygienists have a responsibility to get helpful information across to you for your benefit. And our goal is to do it in an encouraging way. But with stories I hear from patients, it doesn’t always happen.
If you suspect gingivitis, ask questions of your dentist or hygienist. A holistic dentist or biological dentist might be able to suggest a few natural approaches beyond an ordinary toothbrush and fluoride toothpaste.