Gum conditions and care

Gum conditions range from a mild inflammation (redness and swelling) of your gums through to serious gum infection that causes bone and tooth loss. The keys to preventing gum conditions are to care for your teeth and gums every day and to not smoke.

Key points

  1. The main gum conditions are gingivitis (inflammation of your gums), periodontitis (gum disease) and gum recession (when your gums recede so your teeth look longer).
  2. Gum conditions can be acute (short term) and chronic (long term). Chronic gum conditions may develop slowly over many years and you may not notice any problems until you are in your 30s or 40s. Acute gum conditions may occur from your teenage years.
  3. Men are more likely to develop gum conditions than women, except for women who are pregnant. Bleeding swollen gums are common during pregnancy due to increased dental plaque.
  4. The key to preventing gum conditions developing is by caring for your teeth and gums every day and not smoking.

What are the common gum conditions?

Condition Causes, symptoms, treatment
Gingivitis
  • This is an inflammation of your gums.
  • It is caused by plaque build-up due to poor dental hygiene.
  • Symptoms include red or swollen gums or bleeding gums when you brush or floss.
  • It's easily treated by regular brushing and flossing.
  • If not treated, it may lead to periodontitis.
  • Read more about gingivitis
Periodontitis 
  • This is a gum infection or disease.
  • It is caused by plaque build-up allowing bacteria to damage the tissue around your teeth
  • It may develop from untreated gingivitis or if you are a smoker or have a suppressed immune system you may not have bleeding gums before periodontitis develops.
  • Symptoms include loose teeth, bad breath, pus in your gums and gaps opening up in your teeth.
  • It can cause lasting damage to your teeth and the bones that support them and is the leading cause of tooth loss.
  • Because periodontitis is an advanced form of gum disease, you can’t treat it on your own at home, you need to see a dental professional.
  • Read more about periodontitis
Gum recession
  • This is when your gums have been damaged and begin to recede back off your teeth.
  • The symptoms are being able to see the roots of your teeth and your teeth looking longer.
  • It can be caused by brushing too long or hard, wearing away your gums and then your teeth
  • It may also be a sign of periodontitis.

What are the risk factors for gum conditions?

All risk factors for gum disease relate to the build-up of plaque. They include:

  • poor oral hygiene
  • smoking (tobacco or cannabis)
  • diabetes,
  • calculus/tarter
  • large fillings
  • partial dentures
  • pregnancy.

How can I prevent gum conditions?

The same good oral hygiene practices that protect your teeth also protect your gums from the bacteria build-up that leads to inflammation and infection.

These include:

  • brushing your teeth twice a day (first thing in the morning and before bed) with a fluoride toothpaste
  • using a soft or ultra-soft toothbrush – medium and hard toothbrushes can damage your gums and can be less effective at removing plaque
  • flossing once a day to remove plaque from between your teeth – if you have larger gaps between your teeth a dental professional might recommend you use an interdental brush
  • visiting your dentist and dental hygienist regularly for a check-up and professional cleaning (once annually or more frequently if recommended by a dentist)
  • considering using an electric toothbrush rather than a manual one.

You should also:

  • be smoke-free and limit alcohol intake
  • avoid cannabis use as this is associated with severe gingivitis and periodontitis
  • avoid eating sugary foods between meals.

Read more about taking care of your teeth

How does smoking affect my gums?

Avoiding smoking is a key step in keeping your gums healthy. People who smoke have a higher risk of gum problems (and oral cancer), such as complications after tooth extractions and surgery in your mouth. You also have lower resistance to infections and your healing is impaired. 

Gum conditions among smokers are often not noticed because their gums do not bleed, due to poor blood supply to their gums. If you are a smoker and you stop smoking, your gums may start to bleed. This is because the blood supply is returning to your gums and they are starting to fight the plaque.

Learn more

The following links provide further information about gum conditions and care. Be aware that websites from other countries may have information that differs from New Zealand recommendations.   

Dental plaque and gum disease Patient Info, UK, 2017
Gum disease NHS Choices, UK, 2016
Gingivitis and periodontal disease WebMD, 2017

References

  1. EL Morelli, JM Broadbent, JW Leichter, WM Thomson. Pregnancy, parity and periodontal disease Australian Dental Journal. 2018; 0: 1–9.
  2. Periodontal (gum) disease National Institutes of Health, US, 2013
  3. Robinson P, Deacon S A, Deery C et al. Manual versus powered toothbrushing for oral health. Cochrane Database Syst Rev 2005; CD002281.
  4. Smoking and oral health Better Health Australia, 2017

Reviewed by

Associate Professor Jonathan Broadbent is an Associate Professor in Dental Public Health, Department of Oral Sciences, University of Otago. He is a dental public health specialist.
Credits: Health Navigator Editorial Team. Reviewed By: Associate Professor Jonathan Broadbent, Department of Oral Sciences, University of Otago