Gingivitis (Gum Disease) in the Elderly -
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Gingivitis (Gum Disease) in the Elderly


Gingivitis (Gum Disease) in the ElderlyGingivitis is a type of gum disease where there is inflammation of the gums. The risk of developing gingivitis increases with age, not only due to the age-related changes in the body but also with certain contributing factors that are more commonly seen in seniors. However, gingivitis can occur in any age group. At times it starts earlier in life and is left untreated or is so mild that a person does not seek medical treatment. The more severe effects of the disease then develop in the senior years.

Causes of Gingivitis

The cause of gingivitis is a result of plaque and tartar that irritates the gums. Plaque is a a film composed mainly of bacteria that forms over the teeth. Regular brushing and good dental hygiene prevents plaque from forming. Within a few days of plaque formation, it becomes hardened and is then known as tartar. When the tartar forms between the gum and teeth, it cause inflammation of the inner gum tissue (gingiva).

Poor dental hygiene is the most significant cause of gingivitis. While plaque is removable and preventable with good dental hygiene, tartar cannot be as easily removed. There also seems to be other factors that contributes to the formation of gingivitis. This includes :

  • Tobacco use and substance abuse
  • Dry mouth
  • Diabetes mellitus
  • Decreased immunity
  • Changes in the hormone levels
  • Certain medication especially calcium channel blockers, anti-epileptic drugs and immunosuppressants.
  • Poor nutrition
  • Poorly fitting dentures
  • Excessive dryness of the mouth

All of these risk factors are more likely in the elderly. Another factor to consider in seniors is that they are more likely to be suffering with debilitating diseases like arthritis and Parkinson’s disease which makes it difficult to practice good dental hygiene on a daily basis.

Signs and Symptoms

Most people who have gingivitis do not know that they have the condition especially in the early stages. This is largely due to the fact that gingivitis is usually not painful although there may be some tenderness at times. You may have gingivitis if your gums :

  • Appear swollen and puffy.
  • Are softer than normal.
  • Bleed easily with brushing or flossing.
  • Turn a dull red color from the normal pale pink hue.
  • Become tender.

Bad breath is another symptom of gingivitis. However, a person may not have all these symptoms or it may be so mild that gingivitis remains undiagnosed. Therefore regular dental check ups are important so that a dentist can detect the early signs of gingivitis.

Treatment of Gingivitis

Gingivitis resolves on its own without the need for medication if proper dental hygiene is commenced. A dentist may have to first remove the build up of plaque and tartar through a procedure known as scaling. Continuing good dental hygiene therefore will ensure that plaque and tartar will not return thereby allowing the gums to heal.

Good dental hygiene involves :

  • Brushing at least twice a day for a minimum of one minute. Electric toothbrushes are often the better choice.
  • Rinsing with an antiseptic mouth wash.
  • Flossing at least once daily but preferably after every large meal.

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