Inflammation: What is it, and Why is it important?

If you’ve been to the dentist, you may have heard the words “your gums are inflamed”, but do you really understand what that means or why it’s important?


Inflammation is a localized, protective reaction to injury or infection. Signals of inflammation include: redness; swelling; pain; heat and, for your gums, bleeding. In response to inflammation, your body produces chemicals to try to ward off or destroy the irritating agent. If your inflammation continues for a long time, these chemicals can cause damage to both the surrounding area and your entire body.


The most common spot for oral inflammation is your gums. In this case, the irritants are plaque and calculus. Plaque is a mix of saliva, food and oral bacteria. Calculus, which is also called tartar, is plaque that has hardened. If the inflammation only affects your gums it is called gingivitis. Gingivitis can be reversed if the irritants are removed. Plaque can be removed with a toothbrush or dental floss. Tartar or calculus need to be removed by a dentist, dental hygienist, or dental specialist.


When gingivitis is present for a long time, the chemicals begin to break down the bone around your teeth. Once your bone is gone, it’s gone. There’s no way to replace it. When enough bone is lost, your tooth will loosen and need to be taken out.  Once your jaw bone is involved, the process is called periodontitis or periodontal disease.


Inflammation chemicals and other disease-causing agents can enter your bloodstream when your inflamed gums bleed. Many scientific studies link inflammation to disease:

  • Heart disease and gum disease seem to share some of the same agents. The common factor seems to be inflammation.
  • Diabetes and gum disease have a complex interaction where both diseases affect each other.
  • Pregnant women who have oral inflammation are more likely to have premature labor and babies with low birth weights.
  • Some respiratory diseases show oral bacteria in the airways.
  • Rheumatoid arthritis symptoms seem to worsen when oral inflammation is also present.


In addition, scientists are currently studying whether inflammation in the brain might be a cause of Alzheimer’s disease.


Because oral inflammation is often not painful in its early stages and is not life-threatening, you may think “it’s no big deal” and feel that it  doesn’t need to be treated. It is important to remember that your oral health and your overall health are closely related, and making dental care part of your regular schedule is the best way to maintain your health.


If you have any of the symptoms of gum inflammation and do not have a dentist, please call my office at 440-960-1940. We’d love to help you. We are also online at

*Note: The information in this article is not meant to replace the clinical judgement of your healthcare professionals.