Gum disease

Gum disease is a very common condition where the gums become swollen, sore or infected. You should see your dentist if your gums are painful, swollen or if they bleed when you brush your teeth.

Symptoms of gum disease

Healthy gums should be pink, firm and keep your teeth securely in place. Your gums shouldn't bleed when you touch or brush them.

Gum disease isn't always painful and you may be unaware you have it. It's important to have regular dental check-ups.

Early symptoms

The initial symptoms of gum disease can include:

  • red and swollen gums
  • bleeding gums after brushing or flossing your teeth

This stage of gum disease is called gingivitis.

Advanced symptoms

If gingivitis is untreated, the tissues and bone that support the teeth can also become affected. This is known as periodontitis, or periodontal disease.

Symptoms of periodontitis can include:

  • bad breath (halitosis)
  • an unpleasant taste in your mouth
  • loose teeth that can make eating difficult
  • recession of the gum (receding gums exposing the roots of the teeth)
  • gum abscesses (collections of pus that develop under your gums or teeth)

Acute necrotising ulcerative gingivitis

In rare cases, a condition called acute necrotising ulcerative gingivitis (ANUG) can develop suddenly. The symptoms of ANUG are usually more severe than those of gum disease and can include:

Causes of gum disease

Gum disease is caused by a build-up of plaque on the teeth. Plaque is a sticky substance that contains bacteria.

Some bacteria in plaque are harmless. But some bacteria are harmful for the health of your gums.

If you don't remove plaque from your teeth by brushing them, it builds up and irritates your gums. This can lead to redness with bleeding, swelling and soreness.

Seeing your dentist

You should make an appointment to see your dentist if your gums are painful, swollen or if they bleed when you brush your teeth. 

Your dentist can carry out an examination to check the health of your gums. You can find out more about dentists in Northern Ireland, including registering with a health service dentist at:

Preventing and treating gum disease

Mild cases of gum disease can usually be treated by having good oral hygiene.

This includes:

  • brushing your teeth at least twice a day and flossing regularly
  • making sure you have regular dental check-ups

In most cases, your dentist or dental hygienist will be able to give your teeth a thorough clean and remove any hardened plaque (tartar).

Dental check-ups

It's important to have regular dental check-ups so any problems with your teeth and gums can be detected and treated early.

After your check-up, your dentist will recommend a date for your next visit and discuss this with you. The time to your next check-up could be as short as three months or as long as two years – or up to one year if you are under 18.

Generally, the lower your risk of dental problems, the longer the gap will be before your next check-up.

If you've never had gum disease and have good oral health, you may only need to visit your dentist every one to two years for a check-up.

You may need to visit your dentist more often if you've had problems with gum disease in the past. If you have an increased risk of developing gum problems – for example, if you smoke or have diabetes – you may be advised to visit your dentist more often.

The information on this page has been adapted from original content from the NHS website.

For further information see terms and conditions.

This page was published November 2017

This page is due for review May 2019

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