Gum Disease (Gingivitis)

  • Medical Author:
    Steven B. Horne, DDS

    Dr. Steve Horne began his career at Brigham Young University obtaining his BA in English. He earned his Doctorate of Dental Surgery in 2007 from the University of Southern California where his pursuit for academic excellence landed him on the Dean's List. He was recognized for his superior clinical skills and invited to help teach other dental students in courses on restorative dentistry, prosthodontics, and tooth anatomy. During dental school, he provided dental care for underserved populations of Los Angeles and Orange County, Mexico, and Costa Rica with AYUDA. Following dental school, Dr. Horne entered active duty with the U.S. Army and practiced dentistry at Fort Knox, Kentucky, for four years. During this time, he was deployed to Baghdad, Iraq, and received multiple Army Achievement Medals, the Army Commendation Medal, and served as Company Commander. Dr. Horne currently practices full time at Torrey Pines Dental Arts in La Jolla, California, as a general dentist. Dr. Horne is a member of the American Dental Association, the California Dental Association, and the Academy of General Dentistry. Dr. Horne is married to his wife, Christy, and they have a chocolate Labrador named Roscoe.

  • Medical Editor: Charles Patrick Davis, MD, PhD
    Charles Patrick Davis, MD, PhD

    Charles Patrick Davis, MD, PhD

    Dr. Charles "Pat" Davis, MD, PhD, is a board certified Emergency Medicine doctor who currently practices as a consultant and staff member for hospitals. He has a PhD in Microbiology (UT at Austin), and the MD (Univ. Texas Medical Branch, Galveston). He is a Clinical Professor (retired) in the Division of Emergency Medicine, UT Health Science Center at San Antonio, and has been the Chief of Emergency Medicine at UT Medical Branch and at UTHSCSA with over 250 publications.

View Cosmetic Dentistry: Before and After Slideshow Pictures

Quick GuideDental Health Pictures Slideshow: The Ugly Truth About Your Toothbrush

Dental Health Pictures Slideshow: The Ugly Truth About Your Toothbrush

What does gum disease look like? What are gum disease symptoms and signs?

A person with gingivitis will typically have one or more of the following signs and symptoms:

  • Bright red, swollen gums that bleed very easily, even during brushing or flossing
  • A bad taste or mouth odor
  • White spots or plaques on the gums
  • Gums that look like they're pulling away from the teeth
  • Pus between gums or teeth
  • A change in the way the teeth fit together in the mouth or spaces opening up between teeth
  • Change in the way partial dentures fit

As gingivitis progresses (chronic gingivitis), various complications may arise. The affected person may develop receding gums or areas where the root of the tooth becomes uncovered by the shrinking, diseased gums. Deep pockets may develop around the teeth that trap food, plaque, and debris. If gingivitis advances to periodontal disease, the person may lose gum tissue or bone around the teeth and the teeth may become loose or fall out. These changes can develop either very slowly or very rapidly and can affect either a few teeth or the entire mouth. If oral hygiene is almost never done or if the person becomes immune-compromised, acute necrotizing ulcerative gingivitis may develop (ANUG, formerly termed trench mouth). This is a painful condition where infected gums swell, ulcerate, and slough off dead tissue.

It is possible to have gingivitis and not notice any signs or symptoms, so regular visits to the dentist are vital in determining a patient's specific risk level. The dentist is the primary-care provider of the mouth and will be able to provide all of the facts and information necessary in diagnosing the disease and taking steps in curing or reversing gum disease.

How do health-care professionals diagnose gum disease?

The following methods and symptoms are very useful in the diagnosis of gum disease:

  • Measuring the gums: A dentist or hygienist will use a periodontal probe to measure the depths of the pockets around all of the teeth in the mouth generally once per calendar year. Healthy gums will have pockets 1 mm-3 mm deep. Beyond that, the deeper the pockets, the more severe the disease.
  • Taking X-rays: Dental bitewing X-rays will help show the level of the underlying bone and whether any bone has been lost to periodontal disease.
  • Examining sensitive teeth: Teeth that have become sensitive around the gum line may indicate areas of receding gums.
  • Checking the gums: A dentist or hygienist will look for red, swollen, or bleeding gums.
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 4/6/2016

Subscribe to MedicineNet's Newsletters

Get the latest health and medical information delivered direct to your inbox!

By clicking Submit, I agree to the MedicineNet's Terms & Conditions & Privacy Policy and understand that I may opt out of MedicineNet's subscriptions at any time.

VIEW PATIENT COMMENTS
  • Gum Disease - Symptoms

    What were the symptoms of your gum disease?

    Post View 5 Comments
  • Gum Disease - Treatment

    What treatment do you use for your gum disease?

    Post View 2 Comments
  • Gum Disease - Home Remedies

    Do you use any home remedies for gum disease?

    Post View 1 Comment
  • Gum Disease - Other Health Problems

    Do you have gum disease along with a history of heart attack and/or stroke?

    Post View 1 Comment

Health Solutions From Our Sponsors