Understanding Gingivitis

Gingivitis is a type of gum disease. It is an inflammation of the gums that causes redness and swelling. It’s most often caused by infection from bacteria on the teeth. A severe infection can cause small painful sores on the gums, foul breath, and bleeding gums. If untreated, gingivitis can lead to periodontal disease. This can eventually cause tooth loss.

What Causes Gingivitis?

Gingivitis is most often caused when plaque builds up on your teeth. Plaque is a sticky film made of bacteria and other substances that coats your teeth. Brushing and flossing helps remove plaque. If you don’t brush and floss regularly, plaque can build up and lead to gingivitis.

You are more likely to have gingivitis if you:

  • Don’t brush or floss regularly

  • Smoke or chew tobacco

  • Are pregnant

  • Have diabetes

  • Use medications such as oral contraceptives, steroids, drugs used to treat epilepsy, or cancer drugs

  • Have family members who tend to get gingivitis


You may have gingivitis if your gums have areas that:

  • Are swollen

  • Are bright red

  • Bleed easily

  • Are sore

Treating Gingivitis

  • See your dentist. He or she may clean your teeth and remove buildup on your teeth of plaque and tartar. Tartar is a mixture of plaque and minerals that forms into a hard substance.

  • Use an antiseptic mouth rinse if your dentist tells you to.

  • Take antibiotics and other medications exactly as directed. Don’t stop taking them when your symptoms go away.

  • Make sure you brush at least twice a day, and use dental floss at least once a day. This will help remove plaque from your teeth.

  • Eat a soft diet, if needed, to ease discomfort. Avoid food and beverages that may cause more discomfort in your gums. These include citrus juices such as orange juice and lemonade, and salty or spicy foods.

  • Use acetaminophen or ibuprofen for pain or fever. If you have liver or kidney disease or ever had a stomach ulcer or GI bleeding, talk with your health care provider before using these medicines.

When to Call the Health Care Provider

Call your health care provider if you have:

  • Pain that doesn’t go away or gets worse

  • Gums that have pulled away from your teeth

  • A bad taste in your mouth that won’t go away

  • Teeth that become loose

  • Inability to eat or drink because of mouth pain