Boots WebMD Partners in Health
Return To Boots

Oral health centre

This content is selected and controlled by WebMD's editorial staff and is supported by Colgate.
Select An Article

Gum disease, gingivitis and periodontal disease

Gum disease is where the gums become swollen, sore or infected. The gums may bleed during tooth brushing and gum disease may cause bad breath.

Gum disease is also called gingivitis or periodontal disease.

Most people are likely to experience some gum disease during their life and around half of adults have some degree of gum disease.

What causes gum disease?

Plaque is the primary cause of gum disease. However, other factors can contribute to periodontal disease as well. These include:

  • Hormonal changes, such as those occurring during pregnancy, puberty, menopause and monthly menstruation, make gums more sensitive, which makes it easier for gingivitis to develop.
  • Illnesses may affect the condition of your gums. This includes diseases such as cancer or HIV that interfere with the immune system. Because diabetes affects the body's ability to use blood sugar, patients with this disease are at higher risk of developing infections, including periodontal disease.
  • Medication can affect oral health because some dry the mouth and lessen the flow of saliva, which has a protective effect on teeth and gums. Some medications can cause abnormal growth of gum tissue.
  • Bad habits such as smoking make it harder for gum tissue to repair itself.
  • Poor oral hygiene makes it easier for gingivitis to develop.
  • Family history of dental disease can be a contributing factor for the development of gingivitis.

How does my dentist diagnose gum disease?

During a dental examination, your dentist typically checks for these things:

  • Gum bleeding, swelling, firmness and pockets (the space between the gum and tooth; the larger and deeper the pocket, the more severe the disease)
  • Teeth movement and sensitivity and proper teeth alignment
  • Your jawbone to help detect the breakdown of bone surrounding your teeth


Severe gum disease can lead to periodontitis, which affects tissue holding teeth in place.

As many as 15% of adults have severe periodontitis.

Left untreated, periodontitis can lead to jaw bone decay and teeth becoming loose or falling out. Gum abscesses, painful pockets of pus, can also develop.

How is gum disease treated?

Mild gum disease can usually be treated with good oral hygiene: brushing the teeth properly at least twice a day and flossing once a day.

A dentist may recommend a visit to a dental hygienist for a more thorough clean to remove any hardened plaque, called tartar.

Visit the dentist and hygienist as often as they recommend.

To help prevent plaque build-up in future, ask the dentist or hygienist for oral hygiene tips and recommendations for types of toothbrushes, floss, interdental brushes and mouthwashes.

Severe gum disease may require surgical treatment by a dental specialist.

More healthy mouth tips

Other health and lifestyle changes that will decrease the risk, severity and speed of gum disease development include:

  • Stopping smoking. Tobacco use is a significant risk factor for development of periodontitis. Smokers are seven times more likely to get gum disease than non-smokers, and smoking can reduce the chance of success of some treatments.
  • Reduce stress. Stress may make it difficult for your body's immune system to fight off infection.
  • Maintain a well-balanced diet. Proper nutrition helps your immune system fight infection.
  • Avoid clenching and grinding your teeth. These actions may put excess force on the supporting tissues of the teeth and could increase the rate at which these tissues are destroyed.
Next Article:

WebMD Medical Reference

Stay informed

Sign up for BootsWebMD's free newsletters.
Sign Up Now!

Popular slideshows & tools on BootsWebMD

woman looking at pregnancy test
Early pregnancy symptoms
donut on plate
The truth about sugar addiction
Put your best face forward
couple watching sunset
How much do you know?
woman in bikini
Get ready for swimsuit season
How to help tension headaches
assorted spices
Pump up the flavour with spices
bag of crisps
Food cravings that wreck your diet
woman with cucumbers on eyes
How to banish dark circles and bags
probiotic shakes
Help digestion
polka dot dress on hangar
Lose weight without dieting