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Updated on January 2, 2023
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Gingivitis in Adults: Causes, Signs & Treatment

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Gingivitis, also referred to as mild gum disease, is characterized by inflammation of the gum tissue. The damage caused by gingivitis can be reversed when treated promptly.

Left untreated, gingivitis will progress into periodontal disease, a severe form of gum disease that develops from long-term plaque and calculus buildup. Periodontal disease permanently damages the gums and bones and can only be treated with surgery.

Is Gingivitis Curable?

Yes, gingivitis is completely curable if you act quickly. Most cases of gingivitis can be reversed with a professional dental cleaning, followed by practicing good oral hygiene at home. 

Forty-six percent of all adults aged 30 and up show signs of gum disease.1 Many people don’t realize they have it until it progresses into periodontal disease. Gingivitis typically doesn’t cause pain, exhibit clear symptoms, or affect your daily life.

It’s vital you attend regular dental check-ups to monitor for gingivitis. The earlier your dentist catches it, the less likely you are to develop periodontal disease or lose teeth in the future. 

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What Causes Gingivitis?

Gingivitis is caused by a buildup of plaque, a sticky film of bacteria that naturally forms on your teeth. The bacteria in plaque cause inflammation and irritation in the gums, leading to gingivitis.

Multiple factors can put you at a higher risk of developing harmful plaque. These risk factors include:

Smoking and Tobacco Use

Smoking is one of the most significant risk factors for developing gum disease. Research shows that tobacco users are 2 to 20 times more likely to develop periodontitis than their non-smoking counterparts.2

Using tobacco can also reduce your chances of successfully treating gingivitis or periodontal disease.

Poor Oral Hygiene

Taking care of your teeth at home is essential in preventing the plaque build-up that causes gingivitis. Dental professionals recommend brushing your teeth twice daily and flossing at least once daily. 

Stress

Constant stress weakens the immune system and increases inflammation. While there’s insufficient evidence to show that stress can cause gum disease, it may be a risk indicator for it.3

Hormonal Changes

People may be at a higher risk of developing gingivitis during hormonal events such as pregnancy, menses, puberty, and menopause.

Roughly 60 to 75 percent of pregnant women develop gingivitis.4 Gum disease can also pass from mother to baby, which may lead to low birth weight or preterm birth.

Nutritional Deficiencies

Poor nutrition makes it difficult for the body to fight infection, putting you at a higher risk of developing gum disease.

The buildup of dental plaque is also more likely, especially when consuming sugary or processed foods long-term.

Medications and Diseases

Cancer, diabetes, and HIV make it difficult to fight off infections, including gingivitis.

Some prescription medications can also increase your risk of gum disease. These include certain blood pressure medications, heart disease medications, anti-seizure medications, and immunosuppressants.

Dry Mouth

Dry mouth occurs when the salivary glands in the mouth do not produce enough saliva to keep the mouth wet.

This condition is often a side effect of aging. Medications, smoking, radiation therapy, and mouth breathing can also lead to dry mouth and gum disease.

What are the Stages of Gum Disease?

There are three stages of gum disease:

1. Gingivitis

Gingivitis is the early stage of gum disease. It occurs when you accumulate a film of plaque in your mouth.

You may notice inflamed, red, and/or swollen gums during this first stage. However, sometimes no symptoms are present.

2. Periodontitis

When gingivitis goes untreated, it will progress to the intermediate stage of gum disease, periodontitis. Plaque continues to build up, harden, and collect below the gumline. There, it releases toxins that trigger increased gum inflammation.

The gums will start to pull away from the teeth, forming periodontal pockets. Plaque and tartar continue to migrate into these pockets, which are difficult to clean. You may notice a separation between the gums and the teeth and loose teeth at this stage.

Unlike gingivitis, periodontitis can’t be reversed. However, it can be slowed down with treatments like scaling and root planing.

3. Advanced Periodontitis

Without treatment, periodontitis will become more severe. You can experience:

  • Extreme separation between the gums and teeth
  • Very loose teeth that make chewing difficult  
  • Bleeding, swollen gums 

When gum disease advances to this stage, it may require tooth extractions and/or surgery. 

How to Tell if You Have Gingivitis

Gingivitis doesn’t always cause obvious symptoms, so you may not detect it for some time without routine dental visits. 

However, some people may notice warning signs that point to mild gum disease, including:5

  • Dark red or purple gums
  • Puffy or tender gums
  • Swelling in the gums
  • Gums bleeding when brushing or flossing

When gingivitis progresses into periodontitis, you’ll notice more obvious symptoms such as:

  • Receding gums or a “gummy smile
  • Loose teeth
  • Separation of the gums from the teeth
  • Chronic bad breath throughout the day

Treatment for Gingivitis

Gingivitis is fully reversible if you act quickly. The primary treatments for gingivitis include:

Professional Teeth Cleanings

The only way to completely reverse gingivitis is to remove plaque and tartar. 

A dental hygienist or dentist will clean your teeth and gums with specialized instruments. These instruments remove plaque and tartar that a normal toothbrush cannot.

Other Treatments 

If your gum disease doesn’t progress beyond the early stages, no further treatment is necessary. 

However, your dentist will recommend more invasive treatment if you have periodontitis. Common treatment options for periodontal disease include scaling and root planing, gum flap surgery, bone grafts, and/or gum grafts.

Ongoing Oral Hygiene Practices

After your professional dental treatment, you’ll need to practice vigilant oral care. Brush your teeth twice daily, floss at least once per day, and see your dentist for cleanings every 6 months.

How to Treat Gingivitis At Home

If you have a mild form of gingivitis, you can treat the condition at home by:

  • Brushing your teeth twice a day, at least two minutes at a time
  • Flossing once daily
  • Rinsing with mouthwash  
  • Massaging your gums to increase blood flow to the gum tissue

If you suspect you have gingivitis, consult a dentist on the best treatment option.

How to Prevent Gingivitis

All gum disease is preventable if you practice diligent oral hygiene. 

You can prevent gingivitis and its more advanced stages by following these simple steps:

  • Brush your teeth twice daily
  • Floss at least once daily
  • Replace your toothbrush every few months
  • Consider using an electric toothbrush
  • Visit your dentist for a professional cleaning every 6 months
  • Don’t smoke or use tobacco

Summary

Gingivitis is the earliest stage of gum disease, characterized by mild inflammation of the gums. It’s caused by a build-up of plaque, the natural film of bacteria that forms on teeth.

The main symptoms of gingivitis are red, swollen, and bleeding gums, though many people will notice no symptoms at all. 

Left untreated, gingivitis can progress into periodontitis, a more severe form of gum disease. Periodontitis is irreversible and involves bone loss, separation of the teeth from the gums, and loose teeth.

Gingivitis is easy to treat and prevent. A professional dental cleaning can reverse mild forms of gum disease. You can prevent gingivitis by taking care of your teeth, avoiding smoking, and visiting your dentist for regular check-ups.

Last updated on January 2, 2023
6 Sources Cited
Last updated on January 2, 2023
All NewMouth content is medically reviewed and fact-checked by a licensed dentist or orthodontist to ensure the information is factual, current, and relevant.

We have strict sourcing guidelines and only cite from current scientific research, such as scholarly articles, dentistry textbooks, government agencies, and medical journals. This also includes information provided by the American Dental Association (ADA), the American Association of Orthodontics (AAO), and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).
  1. Gum Disease.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2022.
  2. Naderi, N., et al. “The Impact of Smoking on Gingiva: a Histopathological Study.” Iranian Journal of Pathology, National Library of Medicine, 2015.
  3. Goyal, S., et al. “Stress and periodontal disease: the link and logic!” Indian Psychiatry Journal, National Library of Medicine, 2013.
  4. Pregnancy and Oral Health.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2022.
  5. Gingivitis and periodontitis: Overview.” InformedHealth.org, National Library of Medicine, 2020.
  6. Wada-Takahashi, S., et al. “Effect of physical stimulation (gingival massage) on age-related changes in gingival microcirculation.” PLoS One, National Library of Medicine, 2020.
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