Signs of Gingivitis: Symptoms of Gingivitis & Gum Disease

dentists looking at mouth x rays

A common form of mild gum disease, gingivitis is inflammation of the gingiva, the portion of your gum around the bottom of your teeth. According to The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly half of all adults over the age of 30 have gingivitis or some other form of gum disease. This is especially concerning since gingivitis can lead to periodontitis and tooth loss.

What Are the Signs of Gingivitis?

Typically caused by poor oral hygiene, gingivitis can cause three tell-tales symptoms: 

  1. Swollen, puffy or tender gums
  2. Dark red or dusky red gums
  3. Bad breath
  4. Receding gums
  5. Gums that bleed easily

Who Is at Risk?

Gingivitis is very common, and anyone can develop it. That said, these specific factors will increase your risk: 

  • Older age or inherited genetic traits
  • Poor or inconsistent oral care habits
  • Chewing or smoking tobacco
  • Dry mouth related to medications
  • Poor nutrition and vitamin deficiencies
  • Dental restorations that fit improperly
  • Crooked teeth that are hard to clean
  • Conditions that affect immunity such as cancer treatment, HIV/AIDS or leukemia
  • Certain drugs for epileptic seizures, high blood pressure, angina, and some calcium channel blockers
  • Hormonal changes relating to pregnancy, menstrual cycle, pregnancy or birth control pills
  • Medical issues such as certain fungal or viral infections

Preventing Gingivitis

According to the American Dental Association, in most cases, you can prevent gingivitis and gum disease by brushing twice each day and flossing at least once per day. If you suspect you may have gingivitis, you should make an appointment with your dentist.

To assess the health of your gums, your dentist will perform a thorough exam involving the following steps: 

  • Review your medical and dental history
  • Determine if any existing health issues might be contributing to symptoms.
  • Examine your teeth, mouth, gums, and tongue for signs of inflammation and plaque
  • Measure the pocket depth between your teeth and gums using a dental probe
  • Take X-rays to look for bone loss in areas with deeper pockets

If it’s not entirely clear what is causing your gingivitis, your dentist may recommend that you seek a medical evaluation to look for underlying health issues. If your gum disease is serious, your dentist may refer you to a periodontist.

Treating Gingivitis

Timely treatment will usually reverse gingivitis and prevent more serious gum disease and tooth loss. You will also need to practice good oral care at home and stop tobacco use.

Your dentist will usually treat your gingivitis by performing a professional dental cleaning to remove all traces of tartar, plaque, and bacteria. Your dentist may need to perform scaling and root planing to remove the bacterial products, smooth the root surfaces, ensure proper healing and reduce the risk of further buildup of bacteria or tartar. 

If necessary, your dentist may recommend a new dental restoration if misaligned teeth or poorly fitted bridges, crowns or restorations are irritating gums and preventing you from properly cleaning them. 

With proper treatment, you should see the return of pink, healthy gums within days or weeks, as long as you are consistent with your home oral hygiene.

Other Ways to Avoid Gingivitis

In addition to practicing good oral hygiene, you can reduce your risk of developing gingivitis by:

  • Brushing after each meal when possible
  • Replacing your toothbrush every two to three months
  • Using an electric toothbrush to optimize your cleaning potential
  • Using a toothbrush with soft or extra-soft bristles
  • Refraining from chewing or smoking tobacco
  • Limiting sugary foods

You should also visit your dentist for regular checkups to identify the early stages of gingivitis before it progresses to serious gum disease. The sooner you seek professional care, the better your chances of reversing damage and preventing the progression to periodontitis.