What is Gingivitis? Can Dry Mouth Cause it?

If your gums look red and or inflamed or you notice bleeding from the gums when you brush your teeth of eat; or your gums are painful to touch, it is possible you have gum disease called gingivitis.

What is gingivitis?

Gingivitis basically refers to inflammation and bleeding of the gums, but where there is no bone loss around the teeth. (1) When bone loss is involved, the condition is called periodontitis.

What causes gingivitis? 

Gingivitis is very often caused by poor oral hygiene where food debris and plaque are not properly removed. You can think of plaque as acting like a splinter in your skin. When it gets stuck in the skin it creates a red bump that hurts when touching. Unless it is removed, it will continue to aggravate the area and lead to tissue damage and even infection. According to the 1999 World Workshop in Clinical Periodontitis other causes of gingivitis can include medications, malnutrition, bacteria, viruses, fungal, genetic factors, systemic conditions (such as osteoporosis, diabetes, pregnancy), traumatic lesions, foreign body reactions, smoking, DRY MOUTH, and other. (2)

Common signs of gingivitis.

A way to tell if you have gingivitis is if you have, red inflamed painful-to-touch gums, bleeding when brushing, eating, flossing, touching, Gingivitis can also cause bad breath. A dentist, following a clinical and radiographic exam can diagnose and help treat gingivitis. 

What is the treatment of gingivitis?

Gingivitis is something that can get better by proper hygiene including brushing, flossing and regular dental cleanings. (3)  Oscillation-type toothbrushes have been shown to work better than manual brushes in helping with gum disease. (4). In certain cases, you dentist may also recommend antibiotic or chlorhexidine/hydrogen peroxide-containing mouthwashes (5)  

Click here to read about proper oral hygiene recommendations. 

What are the consequences of gingivitis?

If gingivitis is not properly managed it can progress into periodontitis. This happens when the inflammation from gingivitis leads to shrinkage of the bone that supports teeth. If teeth do not have bone support they become lose and eventually can fall out.

If proper hygiene and treatment recommended by your dentist is not maintained, gingivitis can return. Inflammation of the gums can also lead to tooth infections and abscesses as well as swollen lymph nodes.

A study found a possible connection between periodontitis and premature labor and low-birth-weight in infants. (6)

Therefore, it is important to be checked for the condition and treated. Treatment of periodontitis may include deep dental cleanings, gum surgery, antibiotic treatment etc.

To read more about periodontitis click here.

 How does Dry Mouth lead to gingivitis?

Now that we understand what gingivitis is, what causes it, how to manage it in general, let's discuss how it is related to DRY MOUTH.

Saliva is important in physically cleansing the gums. Even though regular brushing and flossing is essential, our saliva is also very important in washing away plaque and bacteria. If we do not have enough of it, plaque (which will turn into calculus with time if not removed) will accumulate around teeth and gums and cause inflammation (gingivitis).  

Therefore, if you have dry mouth you have to understand the risks and follow proper steps to make up for the saliva shortage.

The most important is the mechanical removal of plaque which includes brushing at least twice per day and flossing once per day.  Remember that the areas between your teeth, where your toothbrush cannot reach account for 35% of total tooth surface. So, if you only brush and not floss you are not cleaning 1/3 of your teeth!!!

If you do not let plaque to accumulate around your teeth, you are eliminating a major cause of gum disease. It is important to see a dentist, however, as there may be other causes of gingivitis which may require additional treatment.

Additionally, it is important to substitute for saliva’s cleansing function by regularly drinking water and staying hydrated. Read more here.

Also try to find a routine that works for you in managing dry mouth which may include diet, habit corrections, proper hydration, over the counter dry mouth products, or prescription medications etc.

Read More: 7 Best Dry Mouth Remedies

Dr. Anna Glinianska

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  1. The American Academy of Periodontology. Proceedings of the World Workshop in Clinical Periodontics. Chicago:The American Academy of Periodontology; 1989:I/23-I/24.
  2. Armitage, Gary C. (1999). "Development of a Classification System for Periodontal Diseases and Conditions"(PDF). Annals of Periodontology4 (1): 1–6. doi:1902/annals.1999.4.1.1PMID 10863370. Archived from the original(PDF) on 2010-06-12
  3. Sambunjak, D.; Nickerson, J. W.; Poklepovic, T.; Johnson, T. M.; Imai, P.; Tugwell, P.; Worthington, H. V. (2011). Johnson, Trevor M, ed. "Flossing for the management of periodontal diseases and dental caries in adults". The Cochrane Library(12): CD008829
  4. Deacon, Scott A; Glenny, Anne-Marie; Deery, Chris; Robinson, Peter G; Heanue, Mike; Walmsley, A Damien; Shaw, William C (2010-12-08). "Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews". The Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews(12): CD004971
  5. WebMD http://www.webmd.com/oral-health/antibioticsantimicrobials-for-gum-disease
  6. Saini, Rajiv; Saini, Santosh; Saini, Sugandha R. (2010-01-01). "Periodontitis: A risk for delivery of premature labor and low-birth-weight infants"Journal of Natural Science, Biology, and Medicine1(1): 40–42.



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