Fact Checked

Gum Infection: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment

Written by Fernanda Elizalde

June 28, 2022

Medically Reviewed

By Dr. Brian Harris, DDS

A gum infection can be very uncomfortable and make day-to-day chores hard to perform. 

So, how does a gum infection or gum disease affect healthy gums?

Poor dental hygiene allows for bacteria can grown on the teeth and gums. By not practicing good oral hygiene habits, bacteria will grow freely and over time this can lead to gum infection.

Gum infection causes inflammation and swelling of the gum tissue. If you suspect that you have a gum infection, visit your dentist as soon as possible. This will help avoid further tooth decay and dental issues. 

This article will discuss the causes, treatment, and prevention of gum disease. We’ll also cover periodontal disease, a more severe case of gum disease.



Causes of Gum Disease

As mentioned earlier, gum disease is essentially the accumulation of bacteria around the teeth causing a threat to your oral health. The mouth is full of different kinds of bacteria and daily dental hygiene, such as brushing and flossing, control and regulate the levels of bacteria in the mouth.

A lack of dental hygiene results in the formation of plaque. Plaque is a film of bacteria that forms around the teeth. It can leave to cavities, gingivitis, and tooth decay.

Listed below are common signs and causes of gum infection. 

Poor oral hygiene

Again, not practicing diligent oral health care can wreak havoc on your teeth and gums. Poor oral hygiene often leads to inflamed and swollen gums, bleeding, and redness. It can also lead to dental plaque, cavities, and tooth decay. The American Dental Association recommends that you brush your teeth twice a day and floss daily to prevent gum disease.

Plaque buildup

The number one culprit behind gum disease is plaque. When you fail to brush, floss, and rinse daily, you will begin to increase the risk factor of plaque buildup and this, in turn, can lead to gingivitis, the earliest form of gum disease. The good news is this is reversible if you take action early. The easiest way to keep plaque at bay is to improve your dental care routine. Schedule regular dental cleanings with your dentist.

Smoking and chewing tobacco

If you've seen a smoker, you’ll notice their teeth are often yellow and in poor health due to plaque and tartar buildup. Smoking is not good for the lungs, and certainly not good for the teeth either. Whether you smoke cigarettes or chew tobacco, you are increasing your chances of gum disease and tooth decay. To have a healthy smile free of infection, you’ll need to quit using tobacco products. 

Hormonal shifts in pregnant women

It is not uncommon for women who are pregnant to struggle with gum infections. This is because of hormonal changes. The body undergoes a lot of changes during pregnancy and the rise and fall in hormones can cause the gums to become more vulnerable to infection.

A dentist can provide pregnant women with extra guidance on how to take care of their teeth. During pregnancy, some women find that their gums tend to get irritated, inflamed, puffy, and in some cases even bleed during flossing and brushing. If this happens once in a while it is okay, but if you suffer from these symptoms frequently, consult your doctor or dentist.

Prescription medications

Certain medications can have side effects that cause a sudden drop in the production and flow of saliva. This in turn can lead to a dry mouth and give bacteria a thriving environment to grow and spread. If you suspect that your medication is causing your gums to hurt and get infected, discuss this with your doctor.  

Nutrient deficiencies 

Many people live a busy fast-paced life and reach for convenient food instead of eating a balanced diet. This can lead to nutritional deficiencies and make it hard for your body to get its dose of daily vitamins. If you are low on certain nutrients, especially vitamin C, you may be more susceptible to bleeding gums and other similar conditions that cause unhealthy gums.

When left untreated, bleeding gums can lead to more complex gum infections. If your diet is high in sugar and carbs and low in nutrient-rich foods, your risk of getting gingivitis is higher. The best way to keep a gum infection at bay is to drink plenty of water, eat a balanced diet, and ensure you get your daily dose of vitamin C. 

Crooked teeth

Some people are naturally prone to having crooked teeth. Crooked teeth can also make your mouth a breeding ground for bacteria. Misaligned teeth can make you more prone to gum infections and plaque. Crooked and misaligned teeth tend to trap more food, causing bacteria to thrive. If you have crooked teeth, it’s extra important to floss every day. You may also want to consider adult braces to fix the issue long-term. 

Family history

Genetics can play a role in your oral health. If you have a family history of gum disease, you may be predisposed and more likely to get gum infections. One way to test for susceptibility to gum disease is through bacterial DNA testing.

Once your doctor knows what strains of bacteria you have contributing to the gum disease they can help you with specific treatments. Be sure to tell your dentist about your family history. Your doctor will work with you to come up with an optimal dental plan.

Signs and Symptoms

A gum infection is easy to identify. Listed below are common signs and symptoms that you may be suffering from some form of gum disease. 

  • Persistent bad breath 
  • Mild to intense pain while chewing
  • Bleeding during or after brushing the teeth
  • Sensitive teeth
  • Receding gums
  • Loose teeth
  • Discharge in the mouth
  • Changes in how you bite
  • Apparent changes in the fitting of your dentures

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    Stages of Gingivitis and Gum Disease

    Gingivitis is the earliest sign of gum disease. You may notice inflammation, bleeding, puffy, and red gums.  Gingivitis should be taken seriously, especially in its early stages, this is when it could be easily reversed. Untreated gingivitis can lead to more severe oral infections such as periodontal disease. 

    Untreated infections can also lead to cavities, tooth decay, and tooth loss. This is why you must tend to a gum infection immediately. A gum infection can lead to advanced gum disease such as periodontitis. 

    Chronic periodontitis affects over 47.2% of adults over the age of 30 in the United States. Periodontal disease can lead to the loss of gum and bone tissue that support the teeth. Your teeth may begin to feel loose and wobbly, and your bite can also be affected. This is mostly observed in adults over the age of 50 but can occur at any age. It usually happens gradually over a longer period, however,  some patients experience faster periods of deterioration as well.

    Periodontitis is the most advanced and aggressive form of gum disease. This is generally considered to be the last stage of gum infection. It occurs to people of all ages. 

    Infections that start in the soft tissues of the gums and mouth can spread to the jaw or the surrounding bone. In some cases of advanced gum disease, if the condition becomes very severe bacteria can enter your bloodstream. 

    It’s important to give signs of gum disease your immediate attention. When someone does not seek treatment in a timely fashion, the infection can progress into periodontal disease and spread to other parts of the body. Studies have found that there may be a link between advanced gum disease and certain diseases and risk factors  such as:

    • Respiratory disease
    • Cardiovascular diseases
    • Diabetes or irregular blood sugar
    • Complications in pregnancy
    • Cancer

      Periodontal disease may increase your risk of contracting these systemic diseases.

      Treatment of gum disease

      The Center for Disease Control notes that good oral hygiene and regular professional cleanings can control and treat gingivitis and periodontitis quite effectively. As soon as you suspect a gum infection, schedule an appointment with your doctor to avoid other serious oral conditions.

      If your diagnosis is indeed gum disease, your dentist will go over your treatment options with you. Your treatment plan will greatly depend on the severity of your gum infection.

      Listed below are a few common methods that dentists use to treat gum disease. 

      • Professional dental cleaning
      • Scaling and root planing
      • Antibiotics or topical treatments
      • Prescription mouthwash

        How to Prevent Gum Infection

        To prevent gum infections, you must make oral hygiene a priority. Maintaining healthy gums and avoiding infections can be simple if you brush and floss every single day. This is a sound way to significantly reduce your risk of contracting gum disease, tooth decay, and several other oral health conditions. Set yourself a strict routine and be sure to follow it, you will benefit from these healthy habits.

        Prevention is hands down the best way to avoid gum infection. A few changes in the way you care for your teeth will greatly help keep your teeth healthy. A beautiful smile can boost your confidence tremendously. Do all that you can to care for your gums and teeth.

        Frequently Asked Questions

        How to get rid of a gum infection?

        Here are a few ways to treat gum infections:

        Professional Dental Deep Cleaning

        Visiting your dentist's office for a deep cleaning will help get rid of the infection and restore your gum line. A dental hygienist will use special tools to deep clean your gums, brush and polish your teeth, and remove any stubborn plaque and tartar build-up. 


        Your doctor may prescribe antibiotics to stop the gum infection from spreading and progressing to a more advanced degree.  

        Scaling and Root Planing 

        In a scaling treatment, a dentist or dental hygienist does a deep cleaning to remove plaque and tartar underneath the gums  The gum tissue is gently pushed back and the roots are also cleaned and treated. 


        This form of gum infection treatment is suggested for those who have a really bad case of gum infection. This procedure involves the surgical removal of gum tissue and is usually performed by a dentist.

        Gum Flap Surgery

        When gum disease to a severe level, flap surgery may be the last resort.  Gum flap surgery is a surgical procedure that treats and repairs periodontal pockets. A periodontist may remove gum tissue and create bone and tissue grafts to restore the health of your teeth and gums. 

        What does a gum infection look like?

        Early gum infection, also known as gingivitis typically causes puffy, red, and tender gums that bleed easily even with gentle brushing. . Periodontitis is an advanced level of gum disease. At this stage, the patient may experience loose teeth, receding gums, and tooth loss. Treating gum infection immediately will prevent it from advancing. 

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        What is the fastest way to get rid of a gum infection?

        Brush your teeth twice a day

        Brush your teeth no matter what. Use a dentist-recommended fluoride toothpaste. A good toothpaste will help banish bacteria and give you healthier gums, fresh breath, and promote strong teeth. 

        Floss your teeth after brushing

        Floss thoroughly between every tooth every day. If you fail to remove particles that are stuck between your teeth, it can lead to plaque and tartar build-up. This can lead to gum infection and decay. 

        Use a good anti-gingivitis mouthwash

        Dentists recommend using a name-brand mouthwash to kill harmful bacteria that cause plaque. Several over-the-counter types of mouthwash will do the trick. Many of them have added benefits such as preventing cavities, brightening teeth, and even strengthening tooth enamel. 

        Regular visits to the dentist 

        Tartar and plaque buildup is difficult to remove on your own. Visit the dentist every six months for your routine cleanings and exams. A dental hygienist can deeply clean hard-to-reach areas and use special tools to remove plaque and tartar. Regular visits to the dentist will ensure your mouth stays healthy. 

        Will a gum infection go away on its own?

        Early signs of gingivitis may go away on their own after practicing proper dental hygiene. Level up your oral hygiene routine by brushing thoroughly, flossing, and using an effective antibacterial mouthwash.

        If you notice the symptoms start to go away on their own, then chances are you had an early form of gum infection that was easily treatable with improved oral care. It’s best to also get your dentist's seal of approval that there are no remaining signs of infection.