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Gingivitis: Overview, Causes, Symptoms, Treatment, Risks & Prevention

Written by Danica Lacson on September 22, 2018

What is Gingivitis?

Gingivitis is the early stage, the most common and mild form of gum disease which causes inflammation of the gum or gingiva around the base of the teeth.

According to a report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 2012, one in every two Americans aged 30 and over suffers from periodontal disease or infection of the structures around the teeth.

The study titled Prevalence of Periodontitis in Adults in the United States: 2009 and 2010, has estimated that 47.2 percent or 64.7 million American adults have periodontal disease that ranges from mild, moderate, or severe periodontitis.

How does Gingivitis develop?

The bacteria reside in gums, releases chemicals and acids harmful to the mouth which later affects the soft tissues of the gums, leading to gingivitis.

Gums become red, swollen and bleed easily in gingivitis, but no loss of bone and tissue holding the teeth in place happens.

However, when not treated, it can lead to more severe gum disease called periodontitis and may eventually result in tooth loss.

What are the causes of Gingivitis?

Poor oral hygiene is often identified as the most common cause of gingivitis because the longer plaque and tartar dwell on your teeth, the more dangerous they become to your oral health.

Poor oral hygiene encourages the formation of plaque or the invisible, sticky film made up mainly of bacteria. Plaque forms when sugars and starches from food interact with the mouth-bacteria.

The film of bacteria requires daily removal that when not done, it hardens under your gum line, turning into tartar which collects bacteria. Tartar creates a protective shield for bacteria which causes irritation along the gum line. It is also difficult to remove and requires professional dental cleaning.

When plaque and tartar are left untreated, they cause more irritation on the gingiva, making it swollen and bleed easily.

What are the Risk Factors for Gingivitis?

There are also risk factors or attributes, characteristics or exposures that increase the likelihood of developing gingivitis like bad oral habits, smoking, medications, illnesses, and hormonal diseases.

Bad oral habits

Bad oral habits such as failing to brush your teeth regularly, not flossing or visiting the dentist at least twice a year increase your chances of acquiring gingivitis as they leave room for bacteria to thrive in your mouth.


Smoking is not good for the health and poses a lot of health issues. Gingivitis is one of the health problems that you can get through smoking tobacco because nicotine found in cigarettes make tissue repair hard and the oral problem resistant to treatment.


Medications cause dry mouth or xerostomia which can reduce the flow of saliva. Saliva has a protective effect on the A decreased amount of it results in the vulnerability of the mouth to infections like gum disease.


Illnesses like HIV or cancer may weaken the patient's immune system, leading to the body’s inability to fight off bacteria.

Hormonal changes

Hormonal changes during menstruation, pregnancy, puberty or menopause can make gums more sensitive. The high progesterone and estrogen levels during pregnancy increase the risk of gingivitis to 60 to 70 percent. Immediately Treating gingivitis is crucial to prevent its advancement to severe cases as these pose more threat to pregnancy.

What are the Signs and Symptoms of Gingivitis?

According to the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, men are likelier to have gum diseases compared to women and usually evidence of gum disease shows in their 30s or 40s.

Signs and symptoms may include bad breath, swollen gums, dark red gums, gums that easily bleed when brushing or flossing, receding gum and tender gums.
Healthy gums are firm and have pale pink color. They are also fitted tightly around the teeth.

If you notice something amiss about your gums or you are experiencing some of the signs mentioned previously, it is best to schedule an appointment with your dentist right away and address the issue.

How can Gingivitis be treated?


Although signs and symptoms of gingivitis can be observed through visual examination, it is best to visit your dentist for a proper diagnosis.

Your dentist will check and review your medical and dental history, examine the condition of your teeth, gums, and other related regions, use a dental probe to check for the depth of the pocket on the groove between your gums and teeth, conduct dental X-rays, and other tests as needed.


To reverse the symptoms of gingivitis and prevent it from getting worse and developing into periodontitis, immediate treatment is needed.

The first step in addressing gingivitis is to practice proper oral hygiene such as brushing at least twice a day, flossing, rinsing with mouthwash, and visiting your dentist at least twice a year for checkup and cleaning. A teeth cleaning will then be needed to remove all traces of bacteria products, plaque, and tartar.

How Can Gingivitis Be Prevented?

Poor oral hygiene causes gingivitis by allowing the build-up of plaque. Practicing good oral habits like brushing, flossing, rinsing with mouthwash and visiting the dentist twice a year can prevent the occurrence of gingivitis.

Also, if you smoke, it is best to quit as it is bad for your gums and overall health.

Limit your sugar intake and include in your diet food that can help you fight gum disease.

Oysters, beef, and lamb contain a high amount of zinc which has anti-inflammatory capabilities and antioxidants that can help the immune system fight gingivitis. Vitamin B6 can also fight gingivitis, while calcium and vitamin C strengthens your teeth.

Disclaimer: The oral health information published on this web page is solely intended for educational purposes. Hawaii Family Dental strongly recommends to always consult licensed dentists or other qualified health care professionals for any questions concerning your oral health.

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