Gingivitis – What you Need to Know About the Causes and Treatment

No doubt you’re familiar with the term gingivitis. But do you know what it means for your teeth and gums if you have it?  Find out the causes and treatment options. 

What is Gingivitis?

Gingivitis is the inflammation of gums, known as the gingiva. The signs of gingivitis include red, swollen gums that often bleed when teeth are brushed. Other possible symptoms include bad breath, receding or soft gums but many people with gingivitis have no symptoms and no idea they have it until they visit their dentist. 

Gingivitis can be treated by a dentist via a scale and clean to remove plaque and tartar from teeth. Patients can stop gingivitis from returning by brushing their teeth morning and night, flossing daily and using an antiseptic mouthwash.    

Gingivitis is the first stage of periodontal disease. While gingivitis isn’t harmful, if left untreated periodontitis can cause serious complications for the teeth and gums including bone and tooth loss. 

What Causes Gingivitis?

Gingivitis can occur from a wide variety of causes. Some are linked to lifestyle and are controllable risk factors while others can’t be avoided. 

Poor Dental Hygiene

The most common cause of gingivitis is caused by people not looking after their teeth sufficiently. When teeth aren’t brushed twice daily, bacteria and plaque can accumulate on teeth. The body’s immune system causes inflammation in the gingiva as it fights the bacterial infection. 


Regular smokers are more likely to have gingivitis than non-smokers. The immune system is weakened by smoking and struggles to fight off a gum infection. 

Prescription Drugs

Some medications cause a reduction in saliva flow which results in abnormal growth of the gum tissue. 


Dentists have found that people with gingivitis often have one or more parents with the condition.    

Hormonal Changes

Pregnant women are recommended to see their dentist during pregnancy due to the increased chance of developing gingivitis. Other hormonal changes such as puberty, menstruation and menopause can increase inflammation in the gums. 


Like most parts of our body, the teeth and gums show their age and the risk of gingivitis increases with each birthday. 


Poor fitting dentures can rub against gum tissue which causes the gums to become inflamed and irritated.  


A poor diet, particularly one lacking in vitamin C is thought to increase the chance of gingivitis.  

Medical Conditions 

Some chronic diseases and conditions increase the chance of gingivitis. People with diabetes are more susceptible particularly if their blood sugar levels aren’t kept under control. HIV/AIDS and cancer treatment decrease immunity and increase the chance of gingivitis. Viral and fungal infections also increase the risk of gingivitis. 

Diagnosing and Treating Gingivitis

During a dental check-up, a dentist may observe a patient’s inflamed gums and diagnose gingivitis. A dentist may also use a probe to measure the depth of pockets around the teeth. Healthy pockets are usually 1-3 mm in depth, any longer can indicate gingivitis. A dental x-ray may be used to check for any problems below the gum line. 

Gingivitis in its early stages can be treated by a dentist with a scale and clean to remove the plaque and tartar that’s irritating teeth. A dentist may ask a patient questions to determine which risk factors they may have. By quitting smoking or improving dental hygiene, a patient can ensure gingivitis doesn’t return. If required, a patient may be recommended to see a periodontist for further treatment. 

Untreated Gingivitis

When people don’t see their dentist every six to 12 months, gingivitis can go untreated and complications can set in. Over time, the gingiva continues to be irritated by plaque at the base of the gums and can develop into periodontal disease. The gum disease can spread to tissue and bone and can lead to tooth loss. 

Research is ongoing but links have been made from gum disease to diabetes, coronary disease, stroke, respiratory disease and rheumatoid arthritis possibly caused by bacteria from the gums entering the bloodstream. 

While not common in Australia, trench mouth is common in the developing world due to poor diet and living conditions. The severe gingivitis causes infected, painful gums that may bleed and be ulcerated.

If you are concerned about the health of your gums and gingivitis, make an appointment to see your dentist.