What Is Gum Disease in Kids?

Before we diagnose and treat it, let's first break down what gum disease is. 

When bacteria, food debris and sugar build up on your teeth and gums, they create a sticky film known as plaque. The bacteria in plaque produce acid, which can lead to irritated, swollen, inflamed, and bleeding gums. This is known as the early stage of gum disease (gingivitis), an infection of the gum tissue. 

If gingivitis is not treated, the infection can spread below the gums and affect the bones and other tissues that hold the teeth in place. Eventually the teeth can become loose and fall out. This more severe form of gum disease is called periodontitis.

Can Kids Have Gum Disease?

There’s a common assumption that gum disease only affects adults, but this is not the case. In fact, Boston Children’s Hospital estimates that 50% of children have some form of periodontal disease (another term for gum disease).

Fortunately, most gum disease in kids is gingivitis. This milder form of gum disease can be treated very easily, and the gums will be able to heal without lasting damage. This is not the case with periodontitis; if gum disease becomes advanced, the damage to the underlying bone and other tissues is irreversible. For that reason, it’s important to schedule your child for a dental visit as soon as you spot symptoms of gum disease. 

Symptoms of Gum Disease in Kids

The main symptom of gingivitis is red, puffy, inflamed gums that might bleed when brushing or flossing. If your child is old enough to brush unsupervised, you may not notice this early sign. So make sure that kids and teens understand that bleeding when brushing their teeth is something they should tell you about right away. 

The following signs and symptoms might suggest periodontitis, or advanced gum disease: 

  • Gums that appear to be shrinking or receding from the teeth.

  • Loose or shifting teeth with abnormal spacing.

  • Persistent bad breath.

  • Pus between the teeth and gums.

  • Changes in bite and/or jaw alignment.

Causes of Childhood Gum Disease

The primary cause of gum disease in kids and teens is a build-up of plaque. This most often happens due to poor oral hygiene, a diet high in sugar, or a combination of the two. Other risk factors include: 

  • Genetic predisposition.

  • Mouth breathing. This dries out the mouth, allowing plaque bacteria to thrive. 

  • Orthodontic treatment. Appliances like braces can make it harder to clean plaque from the teeth. 

  • Tobacco use.

  • Autoimmune or systemic diseases.

  • Diabetes.

  • Puberty or other hormonal fluctuations. 

  • Clenching or grinding of the teeth.

  • Medicine. Some medicines can cause gum overgrowth and/or dry out the mouth, increasing gum disease risk. 

At What Age Does Gum Disease Start?

Gum disease can happen at any age, but the risk generally increases as you get older. Kids and teens tend to be vulnerable for a number of reasons: 

  • They might not have the skills to properly brush and floss yet. 

  • They’re attracted to high-sugar foods.

  • They may still be learning motivation, regulation and discipline around snacking and oral hygiene. 

  • They’re more likely to wear braces. 

How Do You Treat Gum Disease in Kids?

Early gum disease in kids can usually be treated with simple, good oral care. That includes:

  • Brushing with an appropriately sized toothbrush twice a day.

  • Using fluoride toothpaste when brushing.

  • Flossing and using mouthwash daily.

  • Eating foods that are low in sugar and starch.

  • Seeing the dentist twice a year for regular check-ups and dental cleanings. 

If their gum disease has progressed to periodontitis, it may be possible to treat it with a deep cleaning and a course of medicated mouth rinse from the dentist. However, in severe cases, surgical treatment might be necessary. 

While your child may sneak a candy bar or soda, or miss brushing here and there, sticking to their oral hygiene routine is imperative to protect against cavities, gum disease, or worse. Start their oral hygiene routine when they're a baby to instill good habits early on. Have them get more involved as a toddler, and then have them take more responsibility while you supervise. It’s not always easy to get kids and teens on board with diligent oral hygiene, but it will all be worth it every time you see their healthy and happy smile. 

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.


What's behind your smile?

Take our Oral Health assessment to get the most from your oral care routine


2.3 billion

people worldwide suffer from tooth decay


What's behind your smile?

Take our Oral Health assessment to get the most from your oral care routine


2.3 billion

people worldwide suffer from tooth decay