Gum Disease

Last Updated September 2021


Gum disease is a common condition identified by sore, swollen, or infected gums . As you brush your teeth you may experience bleeding or painful gums.

The early stage of gum disease is called gingivitis, which if left untreated can develop into periodontitis.

There are various symptoms of the condition, along with different things you can try to prevent or treat gum disease.


Bleeding gums are one of the main and early symptoms of gum disease. Typically, you may notice your gums bleeding after brushing or flossing your teeth.

A build-up of plaque on your teeth and at the gum line can lead to inflamed gums. That’s because the sticky substance plaque contains bacteria, some of which can be harmful to your gums (although certain types are harmless).

This build-up of plaque can cause gingivitis – the early stage of gum disease. This can be treated to try and reverse the effects but if left untreated the plaque is likely to harden and become tartar. The build-up may irritate the inside of your mouth, leading to bleeding, swollen, red and sore gums.

As more tartar develops at the gum line, it can increase the bleeding and develop into periodontitis – an advanced stage of gum disease. This can permanently damage the bones and tissues holding your teeth in place.

What else causes bleeding gums?

Apart from gum disease, other causes of bleeding gums may include:

  • Vitamin deficiencies – Low levels of vitamin C and K could cause gums to bleed easily.
  • Bleeding disorders – People who suffer from conditions such as haemophilia and leukaemia can be more likely to experience bleeding gums.
  • Pregnancy – Hormonal changes during pregnancy may cause your gums to be more sensitive, which can lead to bleeding.
  • Dentures – Wear dentures and experience bleeding gums? It could be a sign they’re too tight.
  • Brushing too hard – Brushing your teeth too vigorously, either in the morning or at night, can lead to sore gums that may start to bleed.

Further signs and symptoms of gum disease

While bleeding gums are one of the main signs of gum disease, there can be other symptoms which may include:

  • Swollen, puffy or inflamed gums – Healthy gums look firm and pink. If you have puffy, tender or swollen gums this could be a sign of early gum disease.
  • Dusky or dark red gums – You might notice this when brushing your teeth or spitting.
  • Receding gums – This can occur at the advanced stage of gum disease if it’s left untreated.
  • Loose or loss of teeth – This could be a sign of advanced stage of gum disease.
  • Bad breath – Known as halitosis, you may also have an unpleasant taste in your mouth.
  • Gum abscesses – A collection of pus develops under your gums or teeth.

Discover more signs of gum disease.

When should I see a dentist?

If you experience painful gums or notice any of the signs and symptoms mentioned above, you should make an appointment to see your dentist. They should be able to diagnose your condition and recommend the best treatment.


There are two main types of gum disease that can develop across different stages of the condition:


Gingivitis is the early, mild (and reversible) type of gum disease. It’s normally caused by a bacterial infection related to a build-up of plaque on your teeth, which can lead to inflamed gums.

This type of gum disease is marked by red, swollen gums that bleed easily when brushed or flossed.

Fail to address gingivitis, by improving your oral care, and it can progress and develop into the more serious (non-reversible) stage of gum disease, periodontitis.

Symptoms of gingivitis can include:

  • Bleeding gums
  • Sensitive or tender gums
  • Swollen, red, puffy gums
  • Bad breath


Untreated gingivitis will likely see the plaque and tartar remain or get worse. In such cases, your gum disease could develop into periodontitis. This type of gum disease attacks gums, bone and the connective tissue that holds teeth in place, eventually loosening them until they could fall out.

Periodontitis can develop in stages when left untreated. Initially, your gum tissue can recede, leading to bleeding and tooth pain. Then, in the advanced stages, your gums, tissue and bones supporting your teeth can be seriously damaged.

Symptoms of periodontitis can include:

  • Receding gums
  • Loose teeth or changes in their position
  • Tooth loss
  • Painful chewing
  • Unpleasant taste in your mouth


Poor oral hygiene is the main cause of gum disease, as it can create a build-up of plaque on your teeth.

Plaque is a sticky film formed from the bacteria and saliva in your mouth. Some of this bacteria is harmless, but when you eat or drink foods high in sugar and starch this bacteria can turn carbohydrates into energy and produce acid at the same time.

It can break down the surface of your teeth, while other bacteria may irritate and cause inflamed, sore gums – a sign of gum disease.

Without regularly or properly brushing and flossing your teeth, plaque can build up and turn into tartar. This is a harder substance that regular brushing won’t remove, so you may require cleaning from a dentist or hygienist.

Further causes of gum disease

Apart from poor oral health, there are other possible causes of gum disease and factors that may put you more at risk of developing the condition. These can include:

  • Medication – Certain medications, such as antihistamines and antidepressants, may reduce the flow of saliva. As saliva protects your teeth and gums, this can negatively affect your oral health.
  • Pregnancy – Hormonal changes when you’re pregnant can make your gums more sensitive and vulnerable to plaque building up.
  • Diabetes – High blood sugar levels can affect your gum health.
  • Malnutrition – Lacking nutrients such as vitamin B and C in your diet may lead to swollen gums and gum disease.
  • Weakened immune system – Infections, conditions and treatments (such as chemotherapy) that weaken your immune system can make it easier for gum disease to thrive.
  • Age – As you get older, you’re more likely to experience gum disease.
  • Smoking – Smoking can weaken your immune system and make it harder for gum disease treatments to work.


Gum disease is one of the most common causes of tooth loss in adults, but it can be treated and prevented with the right care. The best ways of preventing and treating gum disease include:

Improving your oral hygiene routine

Gum disease can develop when we neglect our oral care. You can often treat mild gum disease by maintaining good oral hygiene before gingivitis develops.

Brushing, flossing and swishing with mouthwash twice daily can help reduce bacteria in your mouth to prevent gum disease taking hold. Flossing regularly removes plaque from between your teeth, reducing the chance of gum disease occurring.

Regular visits to your dentist

Regular dentist check-ups can help identify any problems with your oral health sooner, so action can be taken to prevent gum disease developing. If you experience painful gums or other symptoms, your dentist can provide a professional diagnosis and treatment, where required.

Your dentist or dental hygienist may also thoroughly clean your teeth – removing any plaque and tartar to help prevent gum disease developing.

They may also suggest other steps and behaviour changes for treating gum disease and to improve the results of any treatment. For example, this could include stopping smoking.

Undergoing surgery (where advised)

In severe cases of gum disease, or where periodontitis has developed, your dentist may advise surgery or dental treatment – carried out by a specialist in gum problems.

Surgery can be performed to help remove tartar that’s deep under your gums, help heal bones or gums lost due to periodontitis or to cover exposed tooth roots.

Lifestyle changes

As factors such as smoking, malnutrition and certain medication may put you more at risk of gum disease, changing your habits could help prevent the condition.

Your dentist should be able to advise you on any specific actions but stopping smoking and eating a balanced diet may help gum disease or stop it developing.


Using mouthwash makes up part of a healthy oral hygiene routine that can work to prevent tooth decay and help protect against gum disease.

It rinses your teeth, gums and mouth to kill harmful bacteria that could cause gum disease. You should still brush and floss your teeth thoroughly as part of an effective routine.

LISTERINE® Advanced Defence Gum Treatment mouthwash is clinically proven to treat gum disease for healthier gums in as little as 2 weeks. Rinse your mouth with it twice daily to form a protective shield that stops plaque germs attaching to your gums, so they can repair themselves more easily.

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