What is Gingivitis - Causes, Symptoms, Treatments
05/18/2012, Alison Aldridge
What is Gingivitis?
Gingivitis, or gum disease is an inflammation of the gum tissue, and it is the first sign of periodontal disease. It's definitely not a condition to be taken lightly, as periodontal disease can destroy the tissues surrounding your teeth, including the bone and ligaments, causing the teeth to become loose. Periodontal disease is the main reason teeth are lost, but it's a silent condition, and early signs are easily missed as it estimated around 80% of American adults1 have some form of this disease.
What causes Gingivitis?
The condition is caused by plaque deposits. Plaque bacteria are present in everyone's mouth and create a sticky film over the teeth and gums. Most of this sticky film is removed through brushing and flossing. If plaque isn't regularly removed then it quickly hardens into a deposit called calculus, and this tends to collect around the base of the tooth where it meets the gums. Calculus irritates the gums, causing them to become inflamed, and the toxins produced by the bacteria create infection.
Symptoms of Gingivitis
Early symptoms of gingivitis can be easy to miss, but include:
Noticing gums bleed easily when brushed
Having gums which are tender when touched
Having gums which appear to be swollen or shiny
Gums appear to be bright red or even purple in appearance
If you think you might be suffering from gingivitis then you should make an appointment to see your dentist as soon as possible. This is because if gingivitis is caught early on it’s quite easy to get it under control.
If you have gingivitis it's highly likely your dentist will want you to have your teeth professionally cleaned. A professional cleaning removes all the buildup of calculus and plaque from around the gum line, and this helps alleviate inflammation and infection.
You'll need to take extra care of your teeth, and must brush them for 2 minutes twice-daily, and will need to floss once-a-day. It's important to do this even if you're gums bleed for the first few days. After a while this bleeding should clear up, and it's only really takes a couple of weeks to see a real difference.
What Can I Do to Prevent Gingivitis from Developing?
The best way to make sure you don't develop gingivitis is to see your dentist at regular intervals, and to have your teeth professionally cleaned each time. Professional cleaning has been shown to be one of the best ways of helping to prevent gingivitis, as the buildup of plaque is removed before it can create inflammation and infection.
Your dentist is also the best person to ask for tips on how to clean your teeth properly, and how to floss correctly. Having the proper technique will help protect your oral health, and your dentist should be able to advise you on the best toothbrush to use, and the best flossing technique.
Are Some People More Prone Towards Developing Gingivitis?
There are certain conditions which may increase the risk of developing gingivitis. For example people with conditions that affect the immune system, such as diabetes mellitus2 are more at risk of developing gingivitis, and definitely need to take extra care over oral health. Gingivitis can be affected by certain viral infections such as herpes.
Gingivitis can also worsen during pregnancy3 due to hormonal changes, and women may need to visit the dentist more often during their pregnancy, and might need to have their teeth professionally cleaned more frequently.
Smokers are more at risk of developing gingivitis4 as smoking prevents oxygen from reaching the gum tissue so readily, making the gum tissue less able to protect itself and heal from infection and inflammation.
A condition called dry mouth can also increase the risk of gingivitis. This is because the condition is caused by a lack of saliva. Saliva is one of the mouths main defenses against plaque, as it helps to wash it away. Without saliva, plaque is likely to build up more quickly.
What Happens If I Ignore the Symptoms of Gingivitis?
If you choose to ignore early signs that you might have gingivitis, then you're at risk of developing periodontitis. Periodontitis frequently doesn't have any symptoms until it becomes quite advanced, but signs include receding gums, teeth which are becoming loose, pockets around the teeth where the gums are becoming loose and bad breath.
This condition is much more serious than gingivitis, and can often only be managed rather than cured. The treatment is much more invasive and expensive so it's best to make sure you don't let your oral health get to this stage.
1. National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research. Periodontal (Gum) Disease: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatments. National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research. Available at:
2. Lamster IB, Lalla E, Borgnakke WS, Taylor GW. The relationship between oral health and diabetes mellitus. J Am Dent Assoc. 2008 Oct;139 Suppl:19S-24S.
3. Samant A, Mallik CP, Chabra SK, Devi PK. Gingivitis and periodontal disease in pregnancy. J Periodontal. 1976 Jul; 47:415-8
4. Albandar JM, Streckfus CF, Adesanya MR, Winn DM. Cigar, pipe, and cigarette smoking as risk factors for periodontal disease and tooth loss. J Periodontal 2000 Dec;71(12):1874-81. 2000 Dec; 71: 1874-81