What Is Gingivitis?

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Gingivitis is inflammation of the gums. Red, swollen, and tender gums that bleed when brushed or flossed are signs of gingivitis. Gingivitis is often a result of plaque build-up from inadequate oral hygiene, but nutritional deficiencies, underlying health conditions, and certain medications can also cause gingivitis.

Gingivitis is the early stage of gum (periodontal) disease, which is inflammation and infection of the gums and bones that support teeth. Gingivitis is common, affecting people of all ages. Gingivitis rates increase significantly during adolescence. By adulthood, nearly 50% of people have some form of gum disease, which takes in gingivitis.

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

Gingivitis Symptoms 

Healthy gums are typically pink or pigmented in patients with darker skin tones. Healthy gums are also firm and do not bleed. Changes to your gums might be a sign of gingivitis. Common gingivitis symptoms include:

  • Swollen gums
  • Gums that are tender to the touch
  • Gums that are red or reddish-purple
  • Shiny gums
  • Bleeding gums, particularly when brushing or flossing
  • Bad breath 
  • Sticky layer on the teeth (plaque) 

What Causes Gingivitis? 

Plaque buildup on the teeth—above and below the gums—usually causes gingivitis. Plaque is a sticky film of bacteria, mucus, and food debris. Without regular brushing and flossing, the plaque can harden. As the plaque stays, its bacteria can irritate the gums and cause inflammation.

Not regularly keeping up with your oral hygiene is one way for gingivitis to form. There are other oral factors that can make it more difficult to get rid of plaque and, in turn, lead to plaque-associated gingivitis, including:

  • Tooth overcrowding
  • Misaligned teeth
  • A dental prosthesis, such as a crown or bridge, that is not properly fitted
  • New, permanent teeth growing in around baby teeth

Factors not directly tied to the mouth that can affect your gum's reaction to plaque and cause gingivitis include:

  • Hormonal changes during puberty, pregnancy and menopause and while taking oral or injectable contraceptives
  • Certain medications, such as calcium channel blockers used for high blood pressure, and phenytoin (sold under the brand names Dilantin and Phenytek) used for epilepsy
  • Vitamin C deficiency 
  • Certain medical conditions, such as HIV, leukemia, and diabetes

Plaque-induced gingivitis accounts for more cases of gingivitis than all other causes combined. Still, other causes of gingivitis include allergic reactions and a hereditary disorder called hereditary gingival fibromatosis that leads to gum overgrowth.

Risk Factors

There are some factors that can raise your risk of developing gingivitis, including:

  • Smoking 
  • Consuming a diet high in sugar 
  • Having a family history of gum disease

How Is Gingivitis Diagnosed?  

Gingivitis is diagnosed during a dental examination that includes a review of your symptoms and an evaluation of your mouth. 

A dentist will examine your gums for inflammation and other signs of gingivitis, such as redness, bleeding, and swelling. That is usually enough to diagnose gingivitis.

A dentist might also use a periodontal probe, a dental tool similar to a ruler, to measure the depth of the spaces between the teeth and gums to see how advanced the gum disease is. Gums that bleed when gently probed with the device is another sign of gingivitis.

X-rays would typically only be needed if the provider wants to see whether the disease has spread beyond the gums.

Treatments for Gingivitis  

Gingivitis treatment eliminates plaque and tartar buildup to reduce inflammation and prevent the progression of gum disease. Gingivitis treatments include:

  • Professional dental cleaning: A dental professional will use tools to remove the buildup of plaque from the teeth and beneath the gum line. Some people might find this uncomfortable.
  • Improved oral hygiene: Regular brushing and flossing can help control plaque on your teeth. Your dentist may recommend the daily use of an antibacterial mouthwash to help kill bacteria linked to gingivitis. 
  • Dental work: If you have misaligned teeth or old orthodontic devices, your dentist may suggest additional dental work to straighten your teeth or update your device

If a health condition or medication is causing your gingivitis, you can talk to a healthcare provider about treating the conditions or adjusting your medication.

How to Prevent Gingivitis 

Good oral hygiene and regular visits with a dental professional are the best ways to maintain healthy gums and prevent gingivitis. You can:

  • Brush and floss regularly: Brushing your teeth twice a day and flossing at least once daily can help remove plaque buildup on your teeth. Use a soft-bristled toothbrush with fluoride toothpaste to brush, 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 dental professional at least twice yearly for cleanings. Regular visits can help identify early signs of gum disease and prevent it from progressing. 
  • Make lifestyle modifications: Quitting smoking or chewing tobacco, treating other conditions linked to gingivitis, and eating less high-sugar foods can help keep your teeth and gums healthy. 


If left untreated without proper care, gingivitis can develop into to more severe forms of gum disease, like periodontitis. Periodontitis causes the teeth to separate from the gums, forming pockets that trap bacteria and lead to infection.

Other complications of gingivitis include:

  • Abscess: An infection that causes a painful collection of pus in the gums or jaw bones 
  • Trench mouth: Infected, inflamed gums that lead to painful ulcers on the gums 
  • Receding gums: Gum tissue separates from the teeth, exposing tooth roots and making them more vulnerable to decay and damage.

There is also always the possibility that the gingivitis returns.

Living With Gingivitis

Gingivitis is a reversible condition treatable with proper dental care and regular dental cleanings. If you've had your plaque professionally removed and keep up with oral care at home, expect any bleeding and tenderness to go away within a week or two. To further help swelling, you can rinse your mouth with warm salt water.

Most people who maintain good oral health can prevent gingivitis from happening again.

Untreated gingivitis can progress to more serious forms of gum disease and complications. That's why taking care of your oral health or addressing any underlying cause of gingivitis is important. You can talk to a dental professional for guidance on the best toothbrush and mouthwash, as well as the best toothbrushing and flossing techniques, to help keep your teeth and gums healthy. 

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Can gingivitis go away on its own?

    Milder gingivitis can be controlled at home with brushing and flossing. However, it is best to have a professional clean off the plaque with special tools. This is especially true for hard-to-reach areas in your mouth. Untreated gingivitis can progress to more severe gum disease.

  • How long does gingivitis take to clear up?

    With professional cleaning and proper oral hygiene practices at home, gingivitis should clear within one to two weeks.

  • Does drinking a lot of water help with gingivitis?

    Drinking water is essential for oral health, as it helps wash away food particles and bacteria that contribute to gingivitis. While staying hydrated can support oral health, it is not a treatment for gingivitis.

  • Should I brush hard for gingivitis?

    Brushing too hard can irritate the gums, worsen inflammation, and damage sensitive gum tissue. Instead, brush gently and thoroughly in small, circular motions using a soft-bristled toothbrush to help eliminate plaque.

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11 Sources
Health.com uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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