Gums, also called gingiva, consist of the pink soft tissue in the mouth that surrounds the teeth. They cover the alveolar bone and provide a seal around teeth. The gingiva’s fibres serve as part of the support structure that holds the teeth in place. Gums also protect the teeth from microbial infection at the junction between gums and teeth.
Healthy gums are firm, pink, and do not bleed easily. If food debris build-up around a tooth, they can result in a substance called dental plaque. This microorganism rich substance can damage the gums. Thorough and regular brushing and flossing are needed to avoid gingivitis (inflammation of the gums) or more advanced stages of gum disease called periodontitis.
Structure of healthy gums
Gums are classified as mucosae, or soft tissues, just like the surface of the tongue, the cheeks and the lips. Whereas hard tissues of the mouth are considered to be bone and teeth. Unlike the soft tissues of the mouth, that line the lips and the cheeks, most of the gums are tightly attached to the underlying alveolar bone. This helps resist the friction from food that passes over them when a person chews. Therefore healthy gums are firm around teeth, and do not move.
Healthy gums are pink, not red. The pink colour is often described as coral pink, and is associated to light skinned people. When a person is darker skinned, the gums can also be lightly darker or have dark spots due to melanin pigmentation.
When gums are healthy, they have a curved and smooth appearance around each tooth. A papilla is part of the gums that fills the space between two teeth. Healthy gums have pink papillae between teeth which are neither too inflated, neither missing.
There are many levels of diseases that affect the gingiva.
Gingivitis is the infection and/or inflammation of the gums, that is restricted to the gingiva, and that can be generally cured when the causing agent is removed. Its origin is mostly the microorganisms from dental plaque and tartar, but sometimes can be from other sources (hormonal side effects, allergic reactions), and rarely following a genetic disease.
Periodontitis, or periodontal disease, is similar to gingivitis, except that it is more serious and harder to control with common treatments, depending of the severity.
Gum recession is when gums recede and uncover parts of the teeth’s roots. This may be associated to periodontal disease, or may be either due to aggressive brushing or bruxism (teeth grinding). Gum grafts are needed to correct gum recession.
Necrotizing gums are often associated with pain and bleeding gums. The observation can be made when we find ulcers and necrosis at the papillae (extensions of the gums that cover the spaces between teeth).
A gum abscess is a serious condition where an aggressive infection has developed. The source of an abscess can be either from a tooth or from the gums.
There are also many systemic conditions and diseases that have side effects, which affect the gums.
- Naudin C., Grumbach N., Larousse Médical, 3ième édition, Paris, 2003.
- Marcovitch H., Black’s Medical Dictionary, 41st edition, London, 2005.
- Leikin J. B., Lipsky M. S., Complete Medical Encyclopedia, First edition, New York, 2003.
- Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, Gums.
- Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, List of periodontal diseases.