Knowing how gingivitis affects tooth anatomy can be helpful in better understanding how flossing--and good oral care in general--can remove plaque, which helps stop gingivitis before it starts.
If you looked at a cutaway picture of a healthy tooth, the main components include the gums (also known as gingiva) and the main parts of the tooth, as follows:
- Root: The root is the multi-pronged bottom of the tooth that extends into the gums and jaw. Gingivitis is an early stage of periodontitis (periodontal or gum disease). In severe cases of gum disease, very infected gums can cause the roots to loosen and allow the tooth to fall out.
- Pulp: The pulp is the nerve-filled center of the tooth. The pulp is not directly infected in cases of gingivitis, but gum pain may radiate into the nerves in your teeth. Periodiontal or gum disease, however, may impact the pulp, if the pocket extends to the end of the root, known as the apex.
- Crown: The crown is the top part of the tooth that you see and brush. The crown is covered with tooth enamel, which helps protect teeth above the gum line. However, it's at and around the gum line that plaque can build up. That's why daily flossing is essential to maintaining healthy gums -- it clears away plaque-causing bacteria before buildup occurs.
A picture of gingivitis shows how the gums pull away from the teeth and appear swollen and red. In addition, you would see hard, whitish deposits of tartar along the gum line. A dental hygienist's or dentist's skill is needed to remove the tartar, but you can keep it from accumulating by flossing regularly. If your gums are sensitive, try a product designed for sensitive gums, such as Oral-B® Ultra Floss®, which has a spongy texture that may be easier on tender gums.