What Is Gingivitis?

Gingivitis is an inflammation of the gums (gingiva), usually caused by the buildup of plaque at the base of the teeth. Bacteria within this sticky, colorless substance produce toxins that can inflame the gums, causing them to bleed. Without proper dental care, gingivitis may lead to more serious periodontitis (involving destruction of the bone that anchors the teeth in place) and eventual tooth loss.

With gingivitis, plaque builds up and irritates the gums. Eventually, plaque wedges into pockets between the teeth and gums, damaging the gums and causing them to recede.

What Causes Gingivitis?

  • Poor or improper oral hygiene is the most common cause.
  • Poor nutrition, certain chronic diseases (such as diabetes), hormonal changes (such as those that occur during pregnancy), and some medications (including anticonvulsants) may promote gingivitis.
  • Smoking makes it harder for gum tissue to repair itself.

Symptoms of Gingivitis

  • Red, shiny, swollen, tender gums that bleed easily (when brushing the teeth or while flossing, for example)
  • Deep pockets that form between teeth and gums
  • Loose teeth or shifting teeth
  • Receding gum tissue or gum tissue that changes shape
  • Bad breath

Prevention of Gingivitis

  • Brush your teeth at least twice a day using a soft nylon-bristle toothbrush. Scrub with a gentle circular motion, then whisk the brush up (on lower teeth) and down (on upper teeth), away from the gums. Brushing teeth too vigorously will only injure the gums. Be sure to clean the inside surfaces of the teeth (nearest to your tongue), because plaque and tartar (calculus) deposits tend to be heavy there.
  • Brush your tongue; it collects the same bacteria that stick to your teeth.
  • Floss after brushing. With a gentle sawing motion, ease the floss between the teeth, forming a crescent against one side of a tooth. Using your thumbs and index fingers, gently scrape up and down, from just under the gum line to the top of the teeth.
  • Consider using irrigation devices such as Waterpik or plaque removal devices such as Interplak—but check with your dentist first.
  • See a dentist at least once a year. Professional cleaning is required to remove deposits of hardened plaque (tartar).
  • Fruits and vegetables with high fiber content help to clean teeth and prevent gingivitis.
  • Avoid smoking and drinking alcohol.

Diagnosis of Gingivitis

An oral examination by a dentist is required to determine the extent of gum disease.

How to Treat Gingivitis

  • Follow preventive tips for proper dental care.
  • Your dentist or hygienist will remove plaque and tartar from the teeth and may prescribe an antibacterial mouthwash.
  • Vitamin supplements may be recommended to treat a nutritional deficiency.

When to Call a Doctor

See a dentist at least once a year or if you develop symptoms of gingivitis.


Johns Hopkins Symptoms and Remedies: The Complete Home Medical Reference

Simeon Margolis, M.D., Ph.D., Medical Editor

Prepared by the Editors of The Johns Hopkins Medical Letter: Health After 50

Updated by Remedy Health Media

Publication Review By: the Editorial Staff at HealthCommunities.com

Published: 04 Oct 2011

Last Modified: 07 Jan 2015