Gum Disease: 8 Things to Know

  • Portrait dentist assistant and patient
    What Gum Disease Means to Your Mouth
    Your mouth says a lot about your health, and the state of your gums is a big part of that. Inflamed, sore, or recessed gums are nothing to ignore. Find out how to keep your gums healthy, what gum disease can do, and how your dentist can get your gums back in the pink.

  • young african american man with nice teeth smiling at camera
    1. Healthy gums are easy to spot.
    Gums that are doing their job are rosy pink, firm, and cover the roots of your teeth. If you eat a healthy diet, brush and floss every day, and see your dentist, you stand a good chance of having great gums. If you don’t, or if you have certain health conditions that are beyond your control, you may develop gum disease requiring treatment. Left untreated, you risk infection and the possibility of losing some teeth.

  • dentist checking patient's gums
    2. Your dentist pokes at your gums for good reason.
    When your dentist pokes your gums with that little instrument, they are measuring the gum tissue, looking for “pockets” or loose areas. The numbers they call out—ranging from 1 to 7—reflect how healthy your gums are. Anything from 1 to 3 is OK. Higher numbers mean you may need treatment for gum problems. Dentists also look for gums that don’t bleed, bounce back, and show no signs of infection. If you do have bleeding or inflammation—even if you’re between a 1 and 3—you could have early gum disease.

  • concept image of toothbrush and toothpaste with model of teeth in background showing bleeding gums
    3. Gingivitis is the first sign of trouble with your gums.
    If your gums are red rather than pink, and bleed easily or seem swollen, tender, or receding, you may have gingivitis. Your dentist’s office can treat this gum inflammation, which is usually caused by infection, with a thorough cleaning. Cleaning removes the sticky film of plaque, as well as tartar (calculus) which is hardened plaque. Poor oral hygiene is usually behind gingivitis. Twice daily brushing, daily flossing, and seeing your dentist regularly will help keep your gums clean. You want to stop gingivitis in its tracks, before it develops into something worse.

  • detailed illustration of advanced periodontitis, inflammation of the gums with pockets and bone loss
    4. Periodontitis is more severe gum disease.
    Left untreated, gingivitis can develop into periodontitis, in which pockets develop in your gums that make your teeth less secure. These pockets can become infected, which can lead to tooth loss and other health problems. The symptoms are similar to gingivitis—red, swollen, or receding gums that bleed easily—but periodontitis can mean you have tissue or bone loss. The cause, as with gingivitis, is poor oral hygiene, so take steps to avoid this condition. Periodontitis treatment may require surgery or other treatment. 

  • toothbrush floss and toothpaste on counter
    5. You can prevent gum disease with diligence.
    The key to preventing gum disease is removing as much plaque-causing bacteria from your mouth as you can. Brush twice a day with a soft bristle brush that you replace every 3 or 4 months. Brush back and forth gently and make sure you get to all the surfaces. Flossing every day removes bacteria and debris between your teeth—and it’s just as important as brushing. See your dentist every 6 months, or more frequently if you have early signs of gum disease or you have a high risk of developing it. Gum disease is a preventable condition in most people, and just a few minutes a day can save you time, money and discomfort.

  • patient at dental hygienist's office
    6. Dentists and dental hygienists treat gingivitis with a good cleaning.
    In most cases, gingivitis is not difficult for a dentist to treat, though you may not enjoy the process yourself. A dental hygienist can remove the plaque that is inflaming your gums with a professional cleaning. Once the plaque is removed and you have good clean teeth, your gums can recover and become healthy again. Keeping them that way is up to you, so brush and floss daily, which will make those periodic cleanings go more quickly and easily.

  • male oral surgeon looking at camera with surgical assistants and patient in background
    7. You may need to see a periodontist to treat periodontitis.
    If you have periodontitis, your dentist or a periodontist may treat you. A periodontist is a dentist with additional training and expertise in gum disease diagnosis, treatment and prevention. They will clean the pockets where the gum has loosened to prevent damage to the bone that keeps your teeth in. They may remove plaque by scaling or root planing—techniques that get below the gum line. You may be prescribed antibiotics. If your periodontitis is severe enough, you may have surgery, which includes cutting the gum for deeper cleaning, gum or bone grafts, guided tissue regeneration that regrows bone, or applying a gel that stimulates the growth of healthy tissue.

Gum Disease: 8 Things to Know About Gingivitis

About The Author

Nancy LeBrun is an Emmy- and Peabody award-winning writer and producer who has been writing about health and wellness for more than five years. She is a member of the Association of Health Care Journalists and the American Society of Journalists and Authors.
  1. Fighting Gum Disease: How To Keep Your Teeth. Dental Watch. https://www.dentalwatch.org/basic/gumdisease.html
  2. Preventing Periodontal Disease. American Academy of Periodontology. https://www.perio.org/consumer/prevent-gum-disease
  3. Gingivitis. American Dental Association. https://www.mouthhealthy.org/en/az-topics/g/gingivitis
  4. Periodontitis. Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/periodontitis/diagnosis-treatment/drc-20354479
  5. Periodontal disease and systemic health. American Academy of Periodontology. https://www.perio.org/consumer/gum-disease-and-other-diseases
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Last Review Date: 2020 Nov 22
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