What is gingivitis?

By Dr. Sheila Strock on March 31, 2022 in General oral health


Smiling white female adult in dental chair with white male dental provider wearing a mask

Gingivitis1 is an early form of gum disease, also known as periodontal disease, in which plaque builds up on the teeth and causes inflammation of the surrounding gum tissue. This inflammation often makes gums tender, swollen, red, and quick to bleed. You can manage, treat and even reverse gingivitis with the help of a dentist. However, if left untreated, gingivitis can lead to a more severe form of gum disease called periodontitis, which can lead to tooth loss and other oral health issues down the road. 

What causes gingivitis? 

Everyone has millions of bacteria in their mouths – it’s actually normal! Most of these bacteria are considered natural and safe. However, gingivitis occurs when there is a buildup of a sticky film containing harmful bacteria that produce toxins and irritate the surrounding gum tissue. This sticky film is referred to as plaque, and when plaque builds up on the teeth and gums, the bacteria can infect the gums. Plaque can also harden on teeth and become tartar or calculus, which can only be removed by a dental professional. There are many other factors that may increase your risk of gingivitis. Factors include:

  • Bacterial plaque
  • Smoking/tobacco use
  • Genetics
  • Stress
  • Medications
  • Clenching/grinding of teeth
  • Poor nutrition

What are the signs and symptoms of gingivitis?2

Gingivitis doesn’t always cause pain, and many people don’t realize they have the condition. As symptoms worsen over time, you may start to experience:

  • Bleeding gums (metallic or altered taste)
  • Puffiness/swelling of gums 
  • Pain or soreness
  • Bad breath 

Gingivitis may be localized to only a few teeth or could be generalized to many teeth. It’s important to know what signs to look for and to visit your dentist regularly for checkups. 

How do you diagnose and treat gingivitis?3

Gingivitis is easily diagnosable and treatable with the help of a dentist. It is recommended that you visit the dentist at least once a year or more often if recommended by your dentist. During a checkup, your dentist will examine your gum tissues and look for signs of:

  • Bleeding 
  • Loose teeth
  • Gums that are pulling away from the teeth
  • Signs of infection like redness or swelling

Your dentist will also ask you questions about your health, dietary habits and oral health routine to determine if you have any additional risk factors that may contribute to gingivitis (such as pregnancy or diabetes).

Treatment for gingivitis includes eliminating plaque from your gums and teeth by brushing twice and flossing once daily and by visiting the dentist regularly. Your dentist or hygienist will thoroughly clean your teeth to remove any plaque, stains, and tartar. 

Frequently Asked Questions on gingivitis

Here are some answers to frequently asked questions about gingivitis. 

How long does it take for gingivitis to resolve?

The average time it takes for gingivitis to clear up is around 10 to 14 days after starting a proper oral healthcare routine. However, there are other factors that can shorten or extend your timeline, such as severity of gingivitis, how well you follow oral healthcare guidelines, and getting a professional dental cleaning.  

Does gingivitis hurt?

Sometimes, but not always. Gingivitis is a mild form of gum disease that can cause red, swollen gums that may be tender and bleed easily when brushed. Many people don’t know they have gingivitis or even delay treatment because they don’t generally feel any pain. But if gingivitis is left untreated, it can progress to a more severe form of periodontal disease that may become painful. 

How quickly does gingivitis develop?

During the early stages of gingivitis, you may start to notice gum inflammation in just a few days after neglecting or not properly following your oral hygiene routine. However, the signs of generalized gingivitis become more noticeable within two to three weeks. At this stage, if you still leave it untreated, it could then begin progressing to a more severe form of periodontal disease called periodontitis.

Is gingivitis serious?

Gingivitis refers to the inflammation of the gums, which occurs because of plaque buildup on the surface of your teeth. In most cases, gingivitis is a non-destructive type of gum disease, but if left untreated, it can progress to periodontitis, which is more serious and can lead to tooth loss. 

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1 Gingivitis. (n.d.). Retrieved April 16, 2021, from https://www.mouthhealthy.org/en/az-topics/g/gingivitis

2 Gingivitis and PERIODONTITIS: Overview. (2020, February 27). Retrieved April 16, 2021, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK279593/

3 Gingivitis: What It Is, Causes, Diagnosis. Cleveland Clinic. (n.d.). https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/10950-gingivitis-and-periodontal-disease-gum-disease.