Gingivitis Causes Symptoms and Effective Treatments


Gingivitis is an inflammation of the gums. The most common signs include red, swollen, and tender gums that bleed when brushed or flossed. Gingivitis often results from plaque buildup due to inadequate oral hygiene, but it can also be caused by nutritional deficiencies, underlying health conditions, and certain medications.

Gingivitis represents the early stage of gum (periodontal) disease, involving inflammation and infection of the gums and bones supporting the teeth. It’s a common condition that affects people of all ages, with rates increasing significantly during adolescence. By adulthood, nearly 50% of people have some form of gum disease, including gingivitis.

A dental exam can detect gingivitis, and proper dental cleaning along with good oral care practices can reverse it.

Gingivitis Symptoms

Healthy gums are typically pink or pigmented in individuals with darker skin tones. They are also firm and do not bleed. Changes in your gums might indicate gingivitis. Common symptoms include:

  • Swollen gums
  • Tenderness in the gums
  • Red or reddish-purple gums
  • Shiny gums
  • Bleeding gums, especially when brushing or flossing
  • Bad breath
  • A sticky layer on the teeth (plaque)

What Causes Gingivitis?

Plaque buildup on the teeth—both above and below the gum line—usually causes gingivitis. Plaque is a sticky film of bacteria, mucus, and food debris. Without regular brushing and flossing, plaque can harden. The bacteria in plaque can irritate the gums, leading to inflammation.

Inadequate oral hygiene is a primary cause, but other oral factors can also make it difficult to eliminate plaque, leading to gingivitis:

  • Tooth overcrowding
  • Misaligned teeth
  • Poorly fitted dental prostheses (e.g., crowns or bridges)
  • New permanent teeth growing in around baby teeth

Non-oral factors affecting gum response to plaque include:

  • Hormonal changes during puberty, pregnancy, menopause, and contraceptive use
  • Certain medications (e.g., calcium channel blockers for high blood pressure, phenytoin for epilepsy)
  • Vitamin C deficiency
  • Medical conditions (e.g., HIV, leukemia, diabetes)

Plaque-induced gingivitis is the most common, but other causes include allergic reactions and hereditary gingival fibromatosis, a genetic disorder causing gum overgrowth.

Risk Factors

Certain factors can increase the risk of developing gingivitis, including:

  • Smoking
  • High-sugar diet
  • Family history of gum disease

How Is Gingivitis Diagnosed?

Gingivitis is diagnosed during a dental examination that includes reviewing your symptoms and evaluating your mouth. A dentist will check for inflammation and other signs such as redness, bleeding, and swelling. This is usually sufficient for diagnosis.

A periodontal probe may be used to measure the depth of the spaces between the teeth and gums to assess the severity of gum disease. Bleeding upon probing is another sign of gingivitis. X-rays are typically only needed to see if the disease has spread beyond the gums.

Treatments for Gingivitis

Treatment aims to eliminate plaque and tartar buildup to reduce inflammation and prevent the progression of gum disease. Treatments include:

  • Professional dental cleaning: A dental professional uses tools to remove plaque from teeth and beneath the gum line. Some people might find this uncomfortable.
  • Improved oral hygiene: Regular brushing and flossing help control plaque. Dentists may recommend antibacterial mouthwash to kill bacteria linked to gingivitis.
  • Dental work: Misaligned teeth or old orthodontic devices might require additional dental work to straighten teeth or update the device.

If a health condition or medication is causing your gingivitis, discuss treatment options or medication adjustments with your healthcare provider.

How to Prevent Gingivitis

Good oral hygiene and regular dental visits are crucial for maintaining healthy gums and preventing gingivitis:

  • Brush and floss regularly: Brush twice a day and floss at least once daily. Use a soft-bristled toothbrush with fluoride toothpaste and carefully floss between your teeth and beneath the gum line.
  • Use an antibacterial mouthwash: Anti-plaque mouth rinses can help kill bacteria that cause plaque buildup and gingivitis.
  • Get regular dental check-ups: Visit your dentist at least twice a year for cleanings to identify early signs of gum disease and prevent its progression.
  • Make lifestyle modifications: Quit smoking, treat conditions linked to gingivitis, and reduce high-sugar foods intake.


Untreated gingivitis can develop into more severe forms of gum disease, such as periodontitis, which causes teeth to separate from the gums, forming pockets that trap bacteria and lead to infection.

Other complications include:

  • Abscess: Painful collection of pus in the gums or jaw bones.
  • Trench mouth: Infected, inflamed gums leading to painful ulcers.
  • Receding gums: Gum tissue separates from teeth, exposing roots and increasing vulnerability to decay and damage.

Living With Gingivitis

Gingivitis is reversible with proper dental care and regular cleanings. After professional plaque removal and consistent oral care at home, bleeding and tenderness should subside within a week or two. Rinsing your mouth with warm salt water can further reduce swelling.

Maintaining good oral health can prevent gingivitis from recurring. Untreated gingivitis can progress to more serious forms of gum disease and lead to complications. It’s essential to take care of your oral health and address any underlying causes of gingivitis. Consult a dental professional for guidance on the best toothbrush, mouthwash, and techniques for brushing and flossing to keep your teeth and gums healthy

A Quick Review

Gingivitis is a common gum inflammation primarily caused by plaque buildup. Symptoms include red, swollen, and bleeding gums. Proper dental care and hygiene can reverse gingivitis. Risk factors include hormonal changes, certain medications, and medical conditions. Diagnosis is typically through a dental exam. Treatment includes professional cleaning and maintaining good oral hygiene. Untreated gingivitis can lead to severe gum diseases like periodontitis.

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