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A Complete Guide To Inflamed Gums


Gingivitis is the mildest form of gum disease (periodontal disease) and causes inflammation (swelling) in your gums. Many people are unaware that they have gingivitis because of its mild effects, but it is a condition that should not be ignored. If left untreated, gingivitis can lead to severe gum disease.

Gingivitis is the only reversible form of gum disease. Good oral hygiene habits can prevent and slow down the process of gingivitis. Also, poor oral hygiene is the number one cause of gingivitis. There are two types of gingivitis: plaque-induced gingival disease and non-plaque-induced gingival lesions. The most common form of gingivitis, plaque-induced gingivitis, is the response to the bacterial biofilms that coat tooth surfaces. It is also the most common form of periodontal disease and can affect all ages, but is mostly common in adults of either gender.

Gingivitis Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of gingivitis include:

  • Swollen gums
  • Soft gums
  • Bad breath
  • Tender gums
  • Bleeding of gums during brushing and flossing
  • Reddish color of the gums
  • No pain

Gingivitis is not a painful condition. If you are waiting for the pain to occur before seeing a dentist, you could be helping the condition turn into severe gum disease. Look for other symptoms such as red gums instead of pink gums and bleeding that occurs during brushing and flossing over the course of weeks or months.

What Causes Gingivitis?

The most common reason why gingivitis forms is plaque build-up. Plaque is invisible and sticky and is composed mainly of bacteria. Plaque forms and stays on your teeth, and when it interacts with sugary or starchy foods, it comes alive and turns into an acid that eats at your enamel. Brushing your teeth removes plaque that has built up. However, it begins building back up again almost immediately.

Plaque that is left on your teeth for days hardens under your gum line and turns into tartar. Tartar protects plaque, making it more difficult to remove. When tartar forms, people usually need to have a deep cleaning performed by their dentist, since brushing and good oral hygiene habits do no good. If tartar and plaque are both left on your teeth, they begin to irritate the gingiva (gum tissue). Once the gum tissue becomes irritated, the gums soften and become tender and more susceptible to bleeding and swelling.

Diagnosing Gingivitis

Many times, dentists can make a proper diagnosis with an exam of your teeth and gums. He/she will ask you questions related to your symptoms, eating habits, hygiene habits and previous dental history. During your dental visit, your dentist will use an instrument to check the depth of pockets in your gums. The deeper the pocket, the more likely gingivitis has developed. Your dentist will take x-rays to help reveal any bone loss or other problems.

Treating Gingivitis

The number one goal when treating gingivitis is to remove the built-up plaque. Patients may need to see the dentist over the course of time and on regular visits to reduce the oral bacteria. Other forms of treatment may include the following:

  • Hydrogen peroxide rinse
  • Flossing
  • Brushing
  • Cleaning
  • Gum Surgery
  • Curettage
  • Antiseptic mouthwash
  • Fluoride mouthwash
  • Fixing dental restorations
  • Fixing dental problems such as cavities or missing teeth
  • Surgery to remove gum tissue if infected and other treatment options fail

If there is an infection present or your dentist feels you need antibiotics, some will be prescribed to you. Typically these antibiotics are taken by mouth or applied to the gums with a special device. Rarely do you need to change your diet, unless required by your dentist or doctor. Sugar, sweet snacks and beverages should be avoided as much as possible.

Preventing Gingivitis

The only true way to prevent gingivitis from happening is to begin practicing good oral hygiene habits daily and to continue these throughout your life. Regular dental visits (twice a year) can also prevent gingivitis. Brush your teeth and floss at least twice a day. Eat natural products such as apples or other fruit (natural teeth cleaners) for snacks or chew sugar-free gum after eating if you cannot get to a toothbrush. Rinsing your mouth out and drinking plenty of water (especially water that contains fluoride) may also benefit you between brushings.

Risk Factors for Gingivitis

We are all prone to gingivitis, but certain factors increase the risk of developing this disease:

  • Poor oral hygiene
  • Mouth infection
  • Tooth problems (cracked, broken, caries)
  • Poor nutrition, eating/drinking too much sugar
  • Smoking
  • Pregnancy
  • Disorders that affect the immune system (AIDS, arthritis, lupus)
  • Reaction to drugs such as barbiturates
  • Diabetes
  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
  • Osteoporosis

Talking to Your Dentist

Here are some suggestive questions to ask your dentist about gingivitis:

  • How bad is my condition?
  • Which over-the-counter products do you recommend for brushing and rinsing?
  • Which snacks should I eat in between meals?
  • What complications can arise if my gingivitis worsens?
  • How often should I be scheduling an appointment to see you?
  • Which treatment options do you offer?
  • Can you show me the proper way to brush my teeth?
  • Is there an infection? Do I need antibiotics?
  • Am I at a higher risk for developing this condition and other dental problems?
  • What should I expect during my follow-up visit?

Page updated September 2012



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