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What Is Gingival Overgrowth?

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  • Written By: A.E. Freeman
  • Edited By: Melissa Wiley
  • Last Modified Date: 16 November 2016
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Gingival overgrowth is enlargement of the gums in the mouth. The condition is usually caused by medication, such as high blood pressure medicine or anti-epileptic medicine. There may also be a genetic cause for the enlargement. Other risk factors include gum disease and poor hygiene. A person with gingival overgrowth may have trouble chewing and keeping the teeth clean, as gum tissue grows between the teeth.

The most common causes of gingival overgrowth are calcium channel blockers, used to treat high blood pressure and phenytoin, and anti-seizure medication used to treat epilepsy. An immunosuppresent, cyclosporine, can also cause enlargement. In some cases, patients may be on both calcium channel blockers and cyclosporine, which further raises their risk of overgrowth. Usually, the overgrowth is noticed about a month after the patient begins the medicine.

When the gums become overgrown, the tissue becomes more fibrous. Usually, the gums are inflamed and red. The area of the gums most commonly affected is the interdental papilla, or tissue between the teeth, particularly the papillae between the front teeth.

Gingival overgrowth can be painful and disfiguring. Usually, it causes the gums to bleed and can cause the teeth to become loose. It can also cause severe problems with speaking and eating, as the shape of the bite changes, making chewing difficult. The condition also usually increases a patient's risk for oral infections and periodontal disease.

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As the gums grow over the top or crown of the tooth, everyday brushing and flossing can become difficult. The overgrowth can lead to cavities, as a patient cannot properly clean her teeth. Although poor hygiene and periodontal disease can lead to overgrowth, the gum enlargement can also cause gum disease.

One way to reduce any dental problems caused by gingival overgrowth is to have the patient see a dentist four times a year, or every three months, for teeth cleaning and to remove plaque. At each dental check-up, the patient should receive instructions for proper home care. Some patients may find that rinsing with 0.12-percent chlorhexidine solution lessens the overgrowth as well.

If the gingival overgrowth is caused by drugs, some patients may need to wean themselves off of the medication to lessen the overgrowth. Stopping medication may not be effective for patients who have had gum enlargement for a long period of time. Some medications, such as antibiotics or antifungal medications, can lessen the overgrowth. A 2011 study suggested that treatment with folic acid may reduce gingival overgrowth caused by phenytoin.

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