The most common cause of gingival overgrowth (GO) is thought to be gingivitis, itself a result of inflammation caused by dental plaque and plaque-associated bacteria. The obvious gingivitis, gingival recession, and extensive dental plaque seen in this patient are more common in younger, mouth-breathing persons. Higher levels of growth hormone might account for the gingival growth, while the dehydration of teeth and gums promoted by mouth-breathing appears to exacerbate gingivitis.
Formerly called gingival hyperplasia, the term gingival overgrowth has been posited as more inclusive of all forms of such findings. Advocates of this change in terminology point out that confirmation of the diagnosis of gingival hypertrophy (an increase in the size of individual cells) or gingival hyperplasia (an increase in the number of cells) would require biopsy and microscopic examination.
Three major categories of potential causes of GO are commonly described in the literature. They include (in descending order of frequency):
1. Inflammation: such as that described, with apparent connection with gingivitis
2. Drugs: A number of medications have been associated with GO, including anticonvulsants such as phenytoin (approximately 50% of cases), calcium channel blockers such as nifedipine (20%), and immunosuppressants such as cyclosporine (30%).
3. Systemic causes: These include pregnancy, puberty, vitamin C deficiency, leukemia, and granulomatous diseases such as Wegener granulomatosis. It can also manifest as a perineoplastic sign (associated with known or occult cancers).
Treatment, of course, depends on the cause. Even when drugs are to blame, however, co-existing gingivitis can be a contributing factor; it can be addressed with plaque scaling, better dental care, or even gingivectomy. Drugs can be changed or eliminated or doses can be reduced. Other, less common systemic conditions associated with GO can be sought through additional history, laboratory work, and more extensive examination.
TAKE-HOME LEARNING POINTS
• The term gingival hypertrophy is being replaced by the more inclusive gingival overgrowth (GO).
• The most common cause of GO is chronic gingivitis.
• Drug classes associated with GO include anticonvulsants, calcium channel blockers, and immunosuppressants.
• Systemic diseases can trigger GO; these include pregnancy, puberty, and cancer (eg, leukemia).
• Addressing oral hygiene is a good place to start treatment of GO, regardless of the trigger, since it often co-exists with other causation.