It seems as though gingivitis is one of those words we hear often without really understanding what it means. From toothpaste ads, mouthwash commercials, and brochures at your dentist’s office, there is a lot of talk about it, but you may not be clear on what exactly gingivitis is, how it is caused, and what you can do about it. As a parent, it is important to be aware of gingivitis, as it is the very first stage of gum disease and usually painless with very mild symptoms. At Children’s Dental Center, we are big fans of the old adage, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Although gingivitis can be reversed once it becomes apparent, we think it is even better to work with your child to prevent it from occurring in the first place!

What is gingivitis?

The simplest answer is that gingivitis is an inflammation of the gums. It is essentially an immune reaction by the gums in an effort to keep bacteria at bay. Plaque is a naturally-occurring sticky film containing this bacteria, and when it is allowed to build up on teeth, it can produce toxins that irritate the gums. This is often the cause of inflammation, making the gums red or puffy, and sometimes causing them to bleed. This harmful plaque bacteria can even weaken the tooth enamel over time, and if it is not removed by careful brushing and flossing, it can turn into a substance called tartar. Tartar builds up at the base of your teeth, further irritating your gums and creating a situation where more plaque builds on top of more tartar and continues to cause more irritation to the gum tissue.

If gingivitis is left untreated, a condition called periodontitis may eventually develop. Periodontitis is the more severe form of gum disease. Over time, the body will attempt to naturally fight off the byproducts of the bacteria by breaking down the bone and connective tissues that hold the teeth in place. This can cause the gums to begin receding and forming pockets in between the teeth, leading to serious damage that will require serious treatment to correct.

What are the symptoms of gingivitis?

The first indication that your child may be dealing with gingivitis is a small amount of blood on their toothbrush or in the sink when they are brushing their teeth. You might also notice red or swollen gums. Some other symptoms that can accompany gingivitis include:

  • tenderness or pain in gums
  • noticeably bad breath
  • loose teeth

Drs. Rowland, Selecman, Daniel, and Melody are able to diagnose gingivitis by visually inspecting the gums, so if you believe your child is experiencing symptoms of it, you should make an appointment with us as soon as possible.

Can gingivitis be reversed?

Gingivitis can be reversed or “cured” by eliminating the plaque and tartar that’s causing the gums to be irritated. Our dental professionals can remove existing tartar by cleaning and scaling your child’s teeth. After a professional cleaning, you can help keep your child’s teeth and gums free from tartar by encouraging them to brush twice every day with a tartar-control toothpaste and floss at least once a day or helping them to do so if they are too young to do a thorough job. Because bacteria live and breed in plaque, any time there are areas of it near the gums, it can cause gingivitis. Careful brushing and flossing can help keep your child’s teeth and gums healthy and free from plaque and tartar.

girl brushing her teeth

How to prevent gingivitis

One of the best things you can do for your child’s dental health is to schedule a visit to the Children’s Dental Center twice a year. While a good oral hygiene routine goes a long way towards avoiding many major dental problems, our dentists are trained, knowledgeable professionals, and are able to see things you generally cannot see, such as cavities or the beginning stages of gum disease. If they find anything that concerns them, they will be able to advise you on the best course of preventive or corrective treatment.

There are a number of other things you can do to help prevent gingivitis from getting a foothold in your child’s gums, including:

Brushing properly

In a misguided effort to get teeth squeaky clean, many children brush their teeth hard enough to harm the gums by scraping and wounding them, which can leave them open to infection. To preserve the gums rather than irritate them, choose a soft-bristled toothbrush for your child, and make sure they are not pressing down too hard when brushing near the gums by showing them how to move the brush in a gentle circular motion instead.

Flossing the right way regularly

Even though flossing is an essential part of good dental health, plenty of children and adults alike do not do it often enough, and those who do floss do not always do it the right way. Flossing should actually be done before brushing to help lift out and loosen food particles in the teeth that a toothbrush cannot reach. If these particles are not removed, they can not only cause tooth decay, but can also contribute to the development of gingivitis, and eventually gum disease.

Eating a healthy, varied diet

It is pretty common knowledge that avoiding things like candy and too many starches can help keep your kids cavity-free, but there are also foods you should encourage them to eat that will actually improve the health of their gums. Crunchy vegetables and fruit trigger saliva production, which helps to protect their teeth and gums by rebalancing the pH in their mouth. Fibrous fruits and vegetables, like celery, apples, lettuce, and carrots, massage the gums during chewing, which increases the blood flow and improves the body’s natural defenses to protect the gums via the immune system.

Children's Dental Center with patient

Keeping your child’s gums healthy with Children’s Dental Center

Did you know that up to 75% of Americans are dealing with some level of gum disease and are not even aware of it? By knowing what to look for and how to give your child the best chance at avoiding gingivitis, you can help keep them from being part of that statistic! If you have noticed some possible symptoms of gingivitis in your child and want to stop it in its tracks, or if they are due for a professional cleaning and checkup, why not give us a call today? With four doctors, three convenient Memphis locations, and a whole team ready to provide your child with top quality dental services, we have got what it takes to keep your family smiling!