Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility
If you’ve noticed that your gums are a little red and sore, you may have gingivitis– the first sign of gum disease.

Most people get gingivitis at some point in their lives, and its mild symptoms make it easy to ignore. But without treatment, it can turn into a bigger problem for your mouth. The good news is that you can reverse or even prevent it by simply brushing your teeth twice a day and flossing once a day, as well as maintaining regular dental cleanings and check-ups.

What Causes Gingivitis?

When you forget to brush, floss, and rinse with mouthwash, a sticky film of bacteria and food called plaque builds up around your teeth. The plaque releases acids that attack your teeth’s outer shell, called enamel, and cause decay. After 72 hours, plaque hardens into tartar, which forms along the gum line which makes it difficult to clean your teeth and gums completely. Eventually, this buildup irritates and inflames your gums, causing gingivitis.

What Are the Symptoms?

You can have gingivitis and not know it. Over time you may notice:

  • Red, swollen, or purplish gums. Healthy gums should appear pink and firm.
  • Bleeding gums. You may see blood on your toothbrush or when you spit out toothpaste.
  • Sore gums that are tender to the touch

If you think you may have gingivitis, you can take some simple steps to reverse it. Start by looking at your oral health habits to figure out where you could do better. Do you always skip brushing before bed or forget to floss? If so, put reminder notes on the bathroom mirror.

Mouthwash is a big help in treating the disease. Make sure you use one that’s labelled as antigingivitis, antibacterial, or antiseptic. If you can’t remember which kind to buy, ask a pharmacist for help.

If it’s been 6 months since you last saw the dentist, set up a cleaning to remove tartar and plaque buildup from your teeth. Ask your dentist about the proper way to brush — bearing down too hard or missing spots can lead to gingivitis. After a cleaning, your gums should get better within a week or so as long as you brush twice a day, and floss and rinse once a day.

How Can I Prevent Gingivitis?

To keep your mouth healthy, the American Dental Association says you should:

1. Brush your teeth twice a day. Use a soft-bristled brush and fluoride toothpaste. Replace your toothbrush every 3 months or sooner if the bristles become frayed. Old, worn-out ones won’t clean teeth as well.

2. Floss every day. Don’t wait until something gets stuck between your teeth. Daily flossing gets plaque out of places your toothbrush can’t reach. Don’t like flossing? Try interdental cleaners, picks, or small brushes that fit in between teeth. Ask your dentist how to use them.

3. Rinse your mouth out. Antibacterial mouthwash not only prevents gingivitis, but it also fights bad breath and plaque. Ask your dentist which mouthwash would work best for you.

4. Visit your dentist every 6 months. Once tartar forms on your teeth, only your dentist or hygienist can remove it. Depending on your overall oral health and risk factors, you may need to see them more often.

5. Eat healthy foods. Bacteria in your mouth feed on sugars and starches from food, fueling them to release the acids that attack the tooth enamel. Junk food and candy have a lot of extra sugar and starch. Avoid them to keep your teeth and gums healthy.

6. If you smoke, try your best to quit. Not only is smoking bad for your heart and lungs, but it can also harm your teeth and gums. Smoking or using smokeless tobacco can make you more likely to develop severe gum disease, which can lead to tooth loss.

Brush, floss, rinse and repeat. Gingivitis can come back at any time. It is important to build good oral care habits, and stick with them.

Medical Reference Reviewed by Michael Friedman, DDS on August 23, 2018




Nadeem Karimbux, DMD, assistant dean, office of dental education, Harvard School of Dental Medicine, Boston.

PubMed Health: “Gingivitis.”

American Dental Association: “Plaque,” “Mouthrinses,” “Smoking and Tobacco Cessation,” “Brushing Your Teeth (Cleaning Your Teeth and Gums).”

Merck Manual: Home Health Handbook: “Gingivitis.”

Genco, R. “Periodontal Disease and Overall Health: A Clinician’s Guide.”

Research, Science, and Therapy Committee of the American Academy of Periodontology.

Journal of Periodontology, “Epidemiology of Periodontal Diseases,” 2005.

American Academy of Periodontology: “Causes of Gum Disease,” “Gum Disease and Diabetes.”

National Institutes of Health: “Periodontal Diseases.”