Gingivitis vs Healthy Gums

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Dr. Matthew Hannan | My Dental Advocate
Gingivitis vs. Healthy Gums | My Dental Advocate

Harmful bacteria that cause gingivitis can progress into severe gum disease or creep into your bloodstream (yuck!).

Most patients with gingivitis or gum disease are unaware because they don’t have pain.

Understanding the differences between gingivitis and healthy gums will help you evaluate your oral and systemic health. Let’s take a closer look from a dentist’s perspective.

[icon type=”fas fa-arrow-right” color=”#5d9ee1″] Recommended Reading: Gingivitis | The Ultimate Guide

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Gingivitis vs. Healthy Gums (What’s the Difference)

Healthy gums appear firm and coral pink. It’s not uncommon to have a stippling surface resembling an orange peel.

In addition, the architecture of the jaw bone below the gums is readily visible and variable. Signs of unhealthy gums include redness, swelling and puffiness. In addition, harmful bacteria cause your gums to bleed when you brush or floss.

Gum disease will continue to advance if the bacteria are not removed, leading to the gums appearing to pull away from the teeth and generalized bone loss.

[icon type=”fas fa-arrow-right” color=”#5d9ee1″] Recommended Reading: 5 Best Mouthwash for Bleeding Gums 2024 (Dentist Recommended)

Factors undermining healthy gums include tobacco use, malnutrition, poor oral hygiene, and poor immune response. In addition, certain medications, including antihistamines, decongestants, and painkillers, can cause dry mouth and promote gum disease.

Gum disease and cavity-causing bacteria thrive in dry, acidic environments. If you struggle with dry mouth, consider reading our dry mouth product and oral rinse reviews.

As a dentist, I remind my patients that healthy gums aren’t just essential for oral health.

Maintaining healthy gums has a direct impact on your overall health. According to a recent study, bacteria that cause gum disease (periodontitis) are directly linked to chronic health conditions, including Alzheimer’s, diabetes and heart disease.

[icon type=”fas fa-arrow-right” color=”#5d9ee1″] Recommended Reading: What is Gingivitis? Causes, Symptoms & Treatment 2024

What Is Gingivitis?

Gingivitis is inflammation of the gums caused by harmful bacteria.

If your dentist or hygienist does not remove harmful bacteria, the bacteria will congregate and multiply into advanced gum disease. The bacteria that infects the gums lead to swollen, red and puffy gums.

Gingivitis is a common gum issue and a clear warning sign that we must be more proactive about our oral health; however, oral hygiene improvements can help prevent this ailment.

[icon type=”fas fa-arrow-right” color=”#5d9ee1″] Recommended Reading: 14 Gingivitis Home Remedies That Work! (Dentist Recommended)

What Does Gingivitis Look Like?

Let’s take a closer look at what gingivitis and gum disease looks like in the mouth.

We’ll order them from least to most severe so you can see a distinct transition from health to harm. Take note of the colors of the gum, inflammation, plaque and tartar present.

Although we have great pictures available, an accurate diagnosis is incomplete without gum measurements, dental x-rays and medical/dental information.

Gum Disease Pictures | My Dental Advocate
Gum Disease Pictures | My Dental Advocate
Gum Disease Pictures | My Dental Advocate
Gum Disease Pictures | My Dental Advocate
Gum Disease Pictures | My Dental Advocate
Gum Disease Pictures | My Dental Advocate
Gum Disease Pictures | My Dental Advocate
Gum Disease Pictures | My Dental Advocate
Gum Disease Pictures | My Dental Advocate
Gum Disease Pictures | My Dental Advocate
Gum Disease Pictures | My Dental Advocate
Gum Disease Pictures | My Dental Advocate
Gum Disease Pictures | My Dental Advocate
Gum Disease Pictures | My Dental Advocate
Gum Disease Pictures | My Dental Advocate
Gum Disease Pictures | My Dental Advocate
Gum Disease Pictures | My Dental Advocate
Gum Disease Pictures | My Dental Advocate
Gum Disease Pictures | My Dental Advocate
Gum Disease Pictures | My Dental Advocate

Causes of Gingivitis

Harmful bacteria in the mouth infect gum tissue surrounding the tooth.

Soft and hard tissue (bone) become inflamed leading to periodontal disease. When bacteria stay on the teeth for an extended period, they form a sticky film called plaque, which eventually hardens to tartar, also called calculus.

Tartar build-up typically occurs above the gums however it can spread below the gum line, which makes the teeth more challenging to clean. When the bacteria progress below the gum line it invades sensitive space around the teeth.

The bone and gums physically move away from the “harmful agent” (bacteria).

Common Causes

  1. Poor Oral Hygiene: Skipping regular brushing and flossing leads to dental plaque and gum inflammation. Good oral hygiene and dental check-ups can prevent this. Neglect can lead to serious gum disease.
  2. Poor Nutrition’s Role: Harmful bacteria thrive on sugars and carbs. These bacteria grow and can harm gums. Avoiding sugary, sticky foods helps prevent this.
  3. Dental Plaque Explained: Plaque forms from food debris, especially along gums and teeth. It feels fuzzy and feeds on sugars, causing gum inflammation. Brush and floss daily to control plaque.
  4. The Problem with Tartar: Plaque can harden into tartar under the gums, attracting more bacteria. Tartar creates a shield for bacteria and irritates gums. Unlike plaque, tartar must be removed professionally.
[icon type=”fas fa-arrow-right” color=”#5d9ee1″] Recommended Reading: 6 Best Mouthwashes for Gingivitis & Gum Disease 2024

Symptoms of Gingivitis

It’s possible to have gingivitis and periodontitis without any symptoms.

However, there may be no discomfort or noticeable symptoms in mild cases of gingivitis. Often, it remains undetected for quite some time. The symptoms of gingivitis are somewhat non-specific.

The pink-salmon coloring and stippling in the gum tissue will often disappear. Also, the gums may appear shiny as the gum tissue becomes inflamed and stretched over the tissue surface.

Mouth with Gingivitis | My Dental Advocate


  • Red & purple gums
  • Swollen & puffy gums
  • Gum inflammation & discoloration
  • Gum separation & recession
  • Bleeding gums
  • Halitosis (bad breath)
  • Tender gums
[icon type=”fas fa-arrow-right” color=”#5d9ee1″] Recommended Reading: Acute Necrotizing Ulcerative Gingivitis (ANUG) “Trench Mouth”

Treatment of Gingivitis

If you’re diagnosed with gingivitis, don’t panic.

Treatment is standard and includes a prophylaxis dental cleaning by your dentist or dental hygienist. In addition, oral health improvements are necessary to prevent harmful bacteria from re-seeding on your teeth.

For example, brush twice daily, floss regularly and use mouthwash nightly. Suppose you have braces or more significant gaps between your teeth. Use a water flosser. I recommend using BURST water flosser because of its portability, large water tank and replacement tips.

[icon type=”fas fa-arrow-right” color=”#5d9ee1″] Recommended Reading: 5 Best Toothpastes for Gingivitis & Gum Disease 2024

Visit your dentist at least every 6 months for a dental check-up and routine dental cleaning.

Risk Factors

Specific risk factors increase the likelihood of developing gingivitis and periodontitis.

Certain medications, such as antiseizure and immunosuppressants, can lead to gingival hyperplasia (gum overgrowth).

Dentist with Older Patient | My Dental Advocate

Other Risk Factors

  • Smoking or chewing tobacco
  • Dry mouth
  • Hormones
  • Vitamin C deficiency
  • Immunosuppressants
  • Cardiovascular drugs
  • Leukemia & HIV/AIDS
  • Suppressed immunity
  • Cancer
  • Diabetes
  • Pregnancy (hormones)
  • Genetics (family history)
  • Viral & fungal infections
  • Orthodontics/braces
  • Stress/anxiety
  • Depression
  • Crooked teeth
  • Poor-fitting dental appliance
  • Poor-fitting fillings
  • Poor oral hygiene
[icon type=”fas fa-arrow-right” color=”#5d9ee1″] Recommended Reading:Pregnancy Gingivitis: Causes, Symptoms & Treatment 2024

My Experience & Expertise

Gingivitis consists of gum inflammation without bone loss, whereas periodontitis (gum disease) features gum infection with bone loss.

In addition, gingivitis is reversible, whereas periodontal disease is irreversible. Understanding these significant differences will empower you to improve your oral health.

Need a second opinion? We can help! Learn more. Knowledge is power when cultivating healthy dental habits. The more informed you are, the better positioned you’ll be to prevent avoidable and potentially costly dental procedures for you and your family. Watch for future blog posts, where we’ll continue sharing important information, product reviews and practical advice!

About the Author

Dr. Matthew Hannan, also known as “Dr. Advocate,” is a board-certified dentist on a mission to provide accurate dental patient education. He attended Baylor University before completing dental school at UT Health San Antonio School of Dentistry. He now lives in Arizona with his beautiful wife and 4 kids. Dr. Hannan believes everyone should access easy-to-read dental resources with relevant, up-to-date dental research and insight to improve their oral health.

Matt Hannan, DDS Signature | My Dental Advocate

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