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Gingival hyperplasia, which involves the excessive growth of gum tissue, has several causes, including poor dental hygiene, medications, systemic diseases and hormonal changes. Surgery might be needed to correct this condition, but certain lifestyle changes also can help clear up the symptoms. Also known as gingival enlargement or hypertrophic gingivitis, this condition is marked by firm, benign swelling of the gums. In addition to an unsightly appearance, it can cause discomfort and difficulty when talking or chewing, and it can lead to bad breath.
Poor oral hygiene is a common cause of gingival hyperplasia because of the buildup of plaque, which results in gum inflammation and bleeding. Certain classes of drugs also can cause this condition. Immunosuppressants, anticonvulsants and calcium channel blockers can stimulate the overgrowth of gum tissue, resulting in this disorder. Antidepressants and antibiotics also have been implicated in gum overgrowth, although to a much less frequent degree.
Systemic diseases such as human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), diabetes and Crohn's disease, as well as blood disorders such as leukemia, can also cause gingival hyperplasia. The hormonal shifts of puberty and pregnancy can stimulate gum overgrowth, as can nutritional deficiencies such as scurvy from a lack of vitamin C. This condition also might be the result of rare genetic conditions, such as hereditary fibromatosis, Pfeiffer's syndrome or infantile systemic hyalinosis. Orthodontic braces can cause this type of hyperplasia because of the buildup of bacteria in areas that can make it difficult to be removed.
The appropriate treatment for gingival hyperplasia depends on the underlying cause. If a certain medication has led to the condition, then stopping the medication — when appropriate — will halt the progression of gum overgrowth. Oral hygiene measures such as plaque removal, the use of antiseptic mouthwashes and proper brushing and flossing can improve the condition; antibiotics might also be necessary to help control bacterial overgrowth. Orthodontists typically recommend a water irrigation device to more thoroughly remove debris from teeth that are covered with braces.
Gingival hyperplasia that is caused by the hormonal shifts of puberty or pregnancy typically rights itself after the body's hormone levels return to normal. Surgery to remove excessive tissue might be warranted in severe cases and might need to be repeated for the best results. The proper treatment is important because this condition can lead to the loss of bone and teeth if it is left unchecked.