What if you notice your child’s gums bleed when their teeth are brushed? Or their gums seem a bit red and swollen? It’s super common and no big deal, right? Maybe, maybe not. Sometimes, bleeding gums may not be a problem, such as when a child is just brushing too hard or ate something that cut their gum. However, if it happens frequently and the gums constantly look red, it’s time for a dental checkup since they may have gingivitis. The good news is, with a bit of time and effort gingivitis can be healed.
What is gingivitis?
Quite simply, gingivitis is the earliest stage of gum disease, which is easily treatable (with a bit of care). When certain types of oral bacteria grow in the mouth, they form plaque on the teeth. Plaque is easily removed by daily brushing but, if you miss even one day, it quickly begins to harden and form tartar (also called dental calculus). Tartar is much tougher and can’t simply be brushed off. After a while, it causes cavities and irritates the gums around your teeth, eventually causing symptoms like redness, bleeding, and swelling. In the early stage, it is called gingivitis and can be cured. However, if left untreated it will advance to gum disease (periodontal disease), which is more difficult to treat.
How did my child get gingivitis?
The most common cause is not putting enough effort into good oral hygiene. You might think poor oral hygiene means skipping brushing and flossing 5 or 6 days a week, or even for weeks on end. You may be surprised to learn that, since tartar begins forming within a day, only flossing 3 times a week, or skipping brushing for a day or two each week, could be enough to let plaque build up and gingivitis start. Crooked teeth that are hard to get between could also allow plaque to build up and cause gingivitis.
Young children can develop it as well, and a common cause is that they are allowed to brush on their own before they have the physical and mental ability to do a thorough job. For most kids, this means that a parent should help or supervise until they are 7 or 8 years old.
Even if you are meticulous about brushing and flossing, another common cause is the food we eat. A diet full of processed sugars and processed carbohydrates will increase the likelihood of developing gingivitis. Even so-called healthy kid’s foods (yogurt, protein bars, applesauce) often contain hidden sugars, as do many sports drinks and fruit juices.
Another risk factor is sharing germs. Since everyone has beneficial bacteria and harmful bacteria in their mouth, sharing food and drinks can spread those harmful bacteria that lead to gingivitis.
Hormonal changes (think puberty or pregnancy) also greatly increase the risk of developing gingivitis. A few more common causes are genetics, smoking, and some illnesses and medications.
What are the symptoms of gingivitis?
During the earliest stages, there may not be any symptoms. This is why regular checkups and cleanings are so important. The earlier we find gingivitis, the easier it is to heal! Once it’s progressed a bit, you could notice:
Swollen or soft, puffy gums
Gums that bleed when you brush or floss
Occasional tenderness in the gums
A constant bad taste in your mouth
Persistent bad breath
How can gingivitis be prevented?
If you want your family to have healthy gums, here are some great guidelines to follow.
Brush twice a day with a soft toothbrush and don’t forget to clean the gumline extra well.
Electric toothbrushes will do the best job cleaning teeth! Don’t forget to replace your toothbrush (or electric toothbrush heads) every three months.
Floss every day. Be sure to floss all the way to the gums.
Help your child brush and floss until they can do an excellent job on their own (probably around age 7).
Teach your child how to take excellent care of their teeth. You won’t be brushing their teeth forever!
Avoid sugary foods and drinks. Here are some great tips on the best ways to eat sweets, and some healthy alternatives.
Eat lots of fruits and vegetables and be sure to get plenty of Vitamin C, Vitamin D, and Omega-3 fatty acids since they help your gums stay healthy.
Don’t snack right before bed. If you do, be sure to brush afterward!
Don’t share germs that cause gingivitis and cavities! This means everyone gets their own utensils, food, drinks, toothbrushes, and anything else that goes in your mouth.
Get a dental checkup and cleaning every 6 months. Babies should have their first dental checkup by their first birthday.
Consult an orthodontist if you have crooked teeth that are hard to clean.
Avoid tobacco products.
How is gingivitis treated?
If your child does have gingivitis, it’s not a calamity. We will see how far it’s progressed, and many cases can be cleared up with a thorough cleaning. Some cases that are more advanced will need deeper cleanings that may include scaling and root planing. Depending on the child’s age, we may recommend an antibacterial mouthwash or rinsing with salt water.
Once we clean your child’s teeth thoroughly, you can use the prevention strategies we listed above to continue treating gingivitis. Pay extra close attention to cleaning and flossing very well. If you aren’t already using an electric toothbrush, it would be a good idea to start using one as it is very useful for removing plaque, bacteria, and food particles. It would also be helpful to eliminate foods with sugars and simple carbohydrates for a while, to give the gums a chance to heal.
Finally, don’t forget to keep up with regular appointments so we can catch it right away if gingivitis starts to develop again. Regular cleanings will also allow us to clean away any plaque and tartar on the teeth or under the gums, which helps prevent gingivitis.
We are happy to help!
Gingivitis may sound like a big deal, and it easily could be. The good news is that gingivitis can be completely cured! It just takes some daily effort on your part and coordination with your dental team. We are here to help you keep your child’s mouth as healthy as possible and are grateful to have the opportunity to teach you how to accomplish this. Please don’t hesitate to contact us any time you have questions or concerns about your child’s dental health. We look forward to seeing your smiling faces at your next appointment!
At Jungle Roots Children’s Dentistry & Orthodontics, we strive to provide the highest comprehensive pediatric and orthodontic dental care in a unique, fun-filled environment staffed by a team of caring, energetic professionals. We believe the establishment of a “dental home” at an early age is the key to a lifetime of positive visits to the dentist.