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What is gingivitis?

Gingivitis is an early form of gum disease. It occurs when plaque builds up on your teeth along the gum line.

Plaque is usually removed by brushing, but if it builds up it can irritate your gums and may cause bleeding and swelling. Sometimes the plaque becomes hard, called calculus or tartar. If this happens, it must be removed by a dentist.

About 1 in 5 Australians has gingivitis.

What are the symptoms of gingivitis?

Bleeding gums is a common sign of gingivitis. Other symptoms can include tenderness, redness and puffiness or swelling of the gums.

What causes gingivitis?

Gingivitis can be caused by a number of things, but it is most commonly caused by poor oral hygiene. If you have an existing health condition, such as diabetes, you may be more likely to have oral hygiene problems such as gingivitis.

When should I see my doctor?

If you have gingivitis, the earlier you can fix it, the better. If you have swollen or bleeding gums or if your teeth feel loose, then it’s important to see a dentist as soon as you can.

How is gingivitis diagnosed?

Your dentist will examine your gums with an instrument to measure the spaces between the teeth and the gums.

How is gingivitis treated?

Gingivitis is treated by removing any plaque. Because there is no damage to the teeth or bone, gingivitis can be reversed.

Calculus will need to be removed professionally by a dentist. At home, you will need to keep brushing your teeth with a soft toothbrush to get rid of the plaque and bacteria that are causing the gingivitis. Your dentist will instruct you on the best way to do this.

Can gingivitis be prevented?

Taking care of your mouth helps prevent gingivitis. Even if your gums are bleeding and inflamed, it’s important to keep brushing your teeth to reverse the condition.

You can also improve the health of your mouth through:

  • eating a healthy balanced diet
  • avoiding sugary and fatty foods
  • brushing your teeth after every meal
  • drinking water containing fluoride
  • avoiding smoking

Complications of gingivitis

Without treatment gingivitis can get worse and develop into a more serious form of gum disease called periodontitis. This can cause serious problems such as abscesses, receding gums and tooth loss.

Symptoms of periodontitis include:

  • swollen, red gums
  • bleeding gums
  • receding gums
  • bad breath
  • loose teeth
  • new spaces between your teeth
  • tender teeth, especially when you bite
  • a bad taste in the mouth

See your dentist if you have any of the symptoms of periodontitis.

Resources and support

Find out more about looking after your teeth on the Australian Dental Association’s website.

Get advice on mouth care.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: December 2019

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