Medical quality assurance by Dr. Albrecht Nonnenmacher, MD at February 18, 2016

Gum diseases like gingivitis can progress to more serious conditions, causing the loss of teeth. It is important to get this condition treated as soon as possible.


Definition & Facts

Gingivitis is a mild form of gum disease that causes inflammation of the gums which are also called the gingiva. This condition affects more than 50 percent of the U.S. adult population. It usually occurs before periodontitis, which is a serious gum infection that irreversibly damages the tissue and kills the bone that surrounds the teeth. When gingivitis is left untreated, it advances to periodontitis.

Symptoms & Complaints

While healthy gums are pale pink and firm, puffy and red gums could be a sign of gingivitis. Gingivitis also causes the gums to easily bleed. Though some people with this condition do not experience symptoms at all, here are common symptoms and complaints about the disease:


Certain conditions may make one more likely to develop gingivitis including HIV and leukemia, but poor oral hygiene is the primary cause of gum disease. Inadequate brushing or flossing leaves plaque to form. Plaque is a sticky, thin film that is made up mostly of bacteria. It starts to form on the teeth when food makes contact with the bacteria in the mouth. As the plaque progresses, it hardens and becomes tartar. If the tartar builds up below the gum line, it triggers the immune system to respond to the bacterial infection with inflammation.

Gingivitis damages the soft tissues and if the gum disease progresses into periodontitis, it can damage the supporting bone around the teeth. There is a small space between the gums and teeth known as a gingival sulcus which in healthy gums measures less than 3 milimeters. If this sulcus gets too large due to gingivitis, it becomes a periodontal pocket. If the pocket is left untreated, the gums can separate from the teeth. This pocket is susceptible to abscesses.

Diagnosis & Tests

A dentist has to perform an oral examination of a patient’s mouth to diagnose gingivitis. He or she has to examine the tongue, gums, mouth and teeth. Dentists are looking for certain things:

  • Lingering foul breath
  • Loose teeth to the touch
  • Gum recession
  • Bleeding gums
  • Small pockets in between the teeth and gums
  • Puffy and red gums

The next phase of the examination involves taking X-rays of the gums and teeth. X-rays are done to check for bone loss. Personal risks are something else to consider. These may include cigarette smoking, poor oral hygiene habits and a family history of gum disease.

Treatment & Therapy

Gum disease is treated by removing the source of the infection. There are a variety of methods for removing bacteria from the mouth. Brushing regularly with fluoride toothpaste is a good starting point. It keeps plaque buildup to a minimum. Flossing should be done before brushing the teeth. It helps to dislodge any food that get stuck in the teeth. Flossing also allows for getting to hard to reach areas and removes plaque.

It is important to get regular checkups from a dentist. He or she can remove plaque that cannot be removed with flossing and brushing. The dentist will perform a deep cleaning and uses different tools to remove plaque and tartar.

Dentists may prescribe antibiotics for severe cases. Antibiotics help the body to fight off bacterial infections. Overall, practicing good dental habits is essential to decreasing inflammation and controlling gingivitis before it progresses into periodontitis.

Prevention & Prophylaxis

The only way to prevent gingivitis is with good dental hygiene. Good dental hygiene is something everyone should start early and practice consistently. To do a complete cleaning, it takes around five minutes to floss and brush.

Professional cleanings are another way to prevent gum disease. It helps to see the dentist every six to 12 months. People with certain risk factors have to get professional cleanings more than two times a year. Patients with dentures can still get gum disease. It helps to make sure that dentures fit properly to prevent damage to the gums. Smoking cessation may also reduce the risk of gingivitis.