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What Causes Gum Inflammation?

Gum inflammation, or gingivitis, is often triggered by plaque buildup from poor dental hygiene. Bacteria-laden plaque irritates the gums, leading to redness and swelling. Other factors include smoking, hormonal changes, and certain medications. Maintaining a diligent oral care routine is crucial. Wondering how to protect your smile? Discover the steps to healthier gums as you scroll through our visual guide.
Alex Tree
Alex Tree

Poor oral hygiene is frequently the cause of gum inflammation. When a person does not properly brush his or her teeth, plaque builds up and begins to irritate the gums. The gum disease gingivitis is an especially common disease that causes gum inflammation and is ultimately caused by poor oral hygiene. Inflamed gums can be a symptom of a more serious gum disease, however. Gingivitis can progress to periodontitis, which can lead to severe pain, bleeding gums, and a loss of teeth.

Dental plaque builds up on the teeth, and if not removed within about three days, it hardens to become tartar. If proper brushing and flossing are not done daily, this process repeats itself until the gums become irritated and inflamed. Gum disease, and therefore inflammation, is caused by this lack of proper oral hygiene.

A woman with healthy gums.
A woman with healthy gums.

There are two possible types of diseases that can cause gum inflammation: gingivitis and periodontitis. The gum disease gingivitis is caused by the body’s reaction to the chemicals that are given off by bacteria that reacts to plaque around certain areas of the teeth and gums. Gingivitis may progress to periodontitis, though it does not always, even if left untreated. Periodontitis refers to the loss of alveolar bone around the teeth, which is caused by microbes on the teeth and the immune system’s reaction to those microbes. If periodontitis is present, it will always have been preceded by gingivitis.

Gingivitis can cause bleeding, sore gums.
Gingivitis can cause bleeding, sore gums.

Depending on the severity, sometimes the inflammation will go away with regular brushing and flossing. For example, gingivitis caught early can be taken care of with impeccable oral hygiene. In many cases, however, the person affected should get a deep cleaning by a dentist along with advice on how to continue treatment and prevent future gum diseases. If the gum disease is severe, the affected person may need multiple cleanings, antibiotics, and other procedures to rid him or her of the infection and improve the appearance of the mouth. Not treating gum inflammation, whatever the cause, usually leads to the condition worsening.

A lack of regular flossing can be partly to blame for gum inflammation.
A lack of regular flossing can be partly to blame for gum inflammation.

Dentists generally recommend brushing and flossing the teeth at least twice daily. Using a soft-bristled brush is often highly recommended, along with brushing longer instead of harder. Lastly, flossing is important to prevent gum disease and should be done gently to avoid cutting the gums. Combined with routine checkups performed by a dentist, gum inflammation caused by poor oral hygiene should no longer be a problem.

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Discussion Comments


Another thing you can do to try and stave off gum disease is be very careful with what you drink. Fruit juice is absolutely terrible for your teeth and gum health. It's basically swirling acid and sugar through them, it softens them and encourages the bacteria. I read an article which said it was even worse than drinking soda.

If you must drink fruit juice you're better off using a straw, and you should drink quickly, so they don't sit in your mouth longer than they have to.


Unfortunately, sometimes gum disease is hereditary and there's not much you can do except try to put it off.

I know my mother has diligently brushed and flossed all her life and she still has slightly inflamed and retreating gums on some of her teeth.

In fact the dentist told her the best she could do was try to push the gums back, and hope.

That doesn't sound especially hopeful to me.

Although, much as I want to keep my teeth, false teeth wouldn't be the worst thing in the world. Having pain in your mouth for long periods of time from gum infection would be much worse.


A friend showed me a technique in tooth brushing that quite a few people seem to miss out when they go through their routine.

People will brush their teeth with a horizontal motion, all over. But, after that, you should also brush with a vertical motion.

Try to do this at the backs of your teeth as well as the fronts.

This puts the bristles deeper in between your teeth and helps to flush out the bacteria that will inflame your gums.

Although, in saying that, I think that the most important thing you can do for gum disease prevention is floss.

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    • A woman with healthy gums.
      By: elavuk81
      A woman with healthy gums.
    • Gingivitis can cause bleeding, sore gums.
      By: Zsolt Bota Finna
      Gingivitis can cause bleeding, sore gums.
    • A lack of regular flossing can be partly to blame for gum inflammation.
      By: Monkey Business
      A lack of regular flossing can be partly to blame for gum inflammation.
    • The hormonal changes experienced during pregnancy can cause gum inflammation.
      By: hartphotography
      The hormonal changes experienced during pregnancy can cause gum inflammation.