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What is Gingivitis? Signs and Symptoms

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What Is Gingivitis? 
People with gingivitis have inflamed gum tissue around their teeth. This condition is caused by bacteria found in dental plaque.
Normal, healthy gums should be firmly attached to the teeth and underlying bone. Healthy gums come in different colours from pale pink in light-skinned people to grey- brown in people with darker complexions. If you have gingivitis, your gums are inflamed, red and swollen. They will bleed easily and may be tender. 
Gingivitis usually causes little or no pain and you may not notice it. If left unchecked, however, it can progress deeper and become severe. In some people, gingivitis develops into periodontitis, which can lead to tooth loss. 
Plaque is a sticky film that collects on your teeth, especially in crevices and spaces or around rough or broken fillings. bacteria in plaque produce substances that can harm the gums. If plaque is not removed, it hardens and forms tartar or calculus. Calculus provides more rough surfaces for bacteria to bind to and grow. The result is more gingivitis.
Gum disease in general and gingivitis in particular are common. Almost 3 out of 4 adults over the age of 35* have had some form of gum disease in their lifetime. Certain groups are at increased risk of suffering from gum disease:

  • People with poorly controlled diabetes
  • Pregnant women and women taking some forms of birth control pills
  • People taking certain medications. Certain prescription drugs can cause gums to overgrow and become inflamed. These include anti-epilepsy medicines, cyclosporin  and calcium channel blockers.

Symptoms of Gingivitis 
You may notice red, swollen, gums that bleed easily. 

Your dentist will examine and probe your gums and look for tartar deposits on your teeth and under the gum line. The dentist will also record the sites where your gums bleed as they are being examined.
Make sure your dentist knows the medicines you are taking. It's possible that some of them may be contributing to your gingivitis.

Expected Duration of Gingivitis 
Gingivitis can disappear within about a week once you start a program of good daily oral hygiene. If plaque continues to build up, gingivitis is likely to remain. It could progress and turn into periodontitis. This can then lead to loss of supporting tissue and bone around teeth.

Brush your teeth regularly twice a day, last thing at night and on one other occasion. Floss your teeth at least once a day. Make sure you use a toothbrush that suits your needs. Your dental professional will advise on what will be best suited for you. 

Your dentist will determine how often you’ll need to have your teeth professionally cleaned. This can help prevent plaque from being left behind in hard to reach areas of your mouth and will also remove calculus that has already formed. 

Treatment of Gingivitis 
Gingivitis can be reversed if you remove the bacteria that attach and grow on your teeth every day. At your dental practice, you will receive a thorough cleaning. Part of this cleaning procedure is called scaling. This removes plaque from around the gum line. Your dentist or dental hygienist can explain the most effective methods of brushing and flossing. If gingivitis has progressed to periodontitis, you will need additional treatment. Only your dentist can determine at what stage of gum disease you are.

When To Call a Professional 
If you notice your gums bleed when you brush your teeth, contact your dentist.

The outlook is excellent, once you start a program of good daily dental hygiene. Symptoms can disappear in as little as one week. 

Additional information available from: 
British society of Periodontology
British Society for dental hygiene and therapy
British Dental Association
*Adult Dental Health Survey, 2009


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This article is intended to promote understanding of and knowledge about general oral health topics. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your dentist or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment.