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Gum disease, gingivitis and periodontal disease

What is gum disease?

Gum disease is the inflammation of the gums and is also known as gingivitis.

If gum disease is not treated, it can develop into periodontal disease (periodontitis) and this can weaken the bone supporting the teeth.

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

What causes gum disease?

The main cause of gum disease is plaque - sticky deposits containing bacteria building up on the teeth.

Other risk factors include:

  • Pregnancy, puberty, menopause and monthly period hormonal changes in women where gums become more sensitive with a higher risk of gum disease developing.
  • Health conditions such as diabetes, and those conditions affecting the immune system such as cancer or HIV.
  • Some medications affect saliva production and make the mouth dry, taking away the protective effect of saliva against gum disease. Some medications also affect gum tissue growth.
  • Smokers are more likely to have gum disease than non-smokers.
  • Poor oral hygiene - not brushing correctly - makes it easier for gum disease to develop.
  • A family history of gum disease can increase a person's risk.

What causes periodontal disease?

If gum disease is allowed to develop and isn't treated, periodontal disease can develop.

Gum disease and periodontal disease symptoms

Gum disease and periodontal disease symptoms appear at different stages and include:

Early stages - gum disease

Advanced stages - periodontal disease

  • Infected gums
  • Pockets forming between the teeth and gums
  • Receding gums
  • Loose teeth
  • Bad breath
  • Gum abscess
  • Bad taste in the mouth, metallic taste
  • Changes to the bite and how the top and bottom sets of teeth fit together



During a check-up your dentist will look for signs of gum disease, such as bleeding gums, swelling and receding gums

Periodontal disease/periodontitis

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 collections of pus - can also develop.


Mild gum disease can usually be treated with good oral hygiene - brushing the teeth correctly at least twice a day.

A dentist may recommend visiting a dental hygienist. They will address any concerns noted by the dentist and will then give the teeth a more thorough clean using special equipment and tools 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, flossing, interdental brushes and mouthwashes.

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

How to prevent gum disease

Good oral hygiene helps reduce the risk of gum disease with regular tooth brushing, and other steps your dentist may recommend, such as flossing or using mouth wash.

Other healthy habits and lifestyle changes can also help, including:

Is gum disease linked to other health problems?

Gum disease has been linked with some serious health conditions.

Bacteria from gum disease can get into the bloodstream and may increase the risk of stroke and heart disease.

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WebMD Medical Reference

Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks on August 17, 2016

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