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Gingivitis is a mild, often reversible form of gum disease. If left untreated, gingivitis can progress to a serious condition called periodontitis.


Plaque is a sticky material, composed of bacteria, mucus, food and other substances. It hardens to form tartar or calculus. When plaque is left on the teeth for an extended period of time, it can lead to gingivitis. Toxins produced by bacteria in dental plaque irritate the gum tissue and cause infection, inflammation and pain.


Factors that increase your risk of gingivitis include:

  • Poor brushing and flossing
  • Stress
  • Clenching teeth together or grinding teeth
  • Poor nutrition
  • Diabetes
  • Breathing through the mouth
  • HIV infection
  • Improper bite
  • Increased age
  • Pregnancy
  • Birth control pills
  • Family members with gum disease
  • Poorly fitting dentures
  • Some medications taken for high blood pressure, heart disease and depression
  • Some seizure medications
  • Drinking alcohol
  • Smoking
  • Down syndrome


Gingivitis is often painless with symptoms developing when it becomes worse.

Symptoms may include:

  • Swollen, puffy gums
  • Tender gums
  • Redness in the gums or around the teeth
  • Bleeding gums during brushing or eating
  • Gum tissue that recedes or changes shape
  • Persistent bad breath


Your dentist examines your teeth and gums, assessing them for swelling and areas where the tissue is pulling away from the teeth and forming a pocket. Early diagnosis of the problem enables prompt treatment and the possibility of reversing the condition. It's important to see your dentist every six months for a cleaning because gingivitis may have no symptoms in the early stages.


Gingivitis therapy aims to remove the irritating plaque and prevent its return.

Treatment includes:

  • Regular dental checkups and good oral hygiene
  • Careful and frequent brushing and flossing
  • A healthful diet that is low in saturated fat and rich in whole grains, fruits, and vegetables


Thoroughly brush and floss your teeth. Use a soft-bristled toothbrush, and replace the brush every 3-4 months or when the bristles become bent or frayed. Move the brush in small circular movements along the gumline and chewing surfaces of your teeth.


Flossing helps get rid of food and bacteria between teeth. Do not pop the floss against the gum. Curve the floss around the tooth and rub up and down. Adjust the floss, so you use a fresh section for each tooth, including the back side of the last tooth, left and right, upper and lower.

Dental Care

Dental health professionals check for gingivitis and remove plaque that has built up on teeth. A visit every six months is usually considered adequate. Patients with gingivitis may need more frequent cleanings. If the disease progresses and plaque builds up below the gum line, the area must be scraped off and smoothed with dental tools. 

You may require surgery or medication if an area has progressed to periodontal disease. Treatment for an underlying medical problem may improve the health of your gums.


Strategies to prevent gingivitis include:

  • Good dental habits:
    • Brush your teeth twice daily. There is some data that rotating oscillating electric toothbrushes are more effective in controlling gingivitis than brushing by hand.
    • Floss at least once a day
    • Visit the dentist's office for a cleaning every six months
  • Eat balanced, nutritious meals
  • Avoid smoking and alcohol

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Content was created using EBSCO’s Health Library. Edits to original content made by Rector and Visitors of the University of Virginia. This information is not a substitute for professional medical advice.

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