Is Gingivitis & Gum Disease Contagious? (What the Research Says 2023)
Matt Hannan, DDS
Updated: October 14, 2023
Gum disease affects nearly half of adults over 30 years old. And according to the American Dental Association (ADA), it is the number one reason people seek dental care. If left untreated, gum disease can result in tooth loss.
Is it possible to acquire gum disease-causing bacteria from others? Let’s explore how it’s transmitted to maintain a healthy mouth.Recommended Reading: Gingivitis | The Ultimate Guide
Is gingivitis & gum disease contagious?
According to a study by Canadian scientists, gingivitis-causing bacteria are transmissible 30-70% of the time. The transmission rate depends on many factors, including the recipient’s immune response, frequency of exposure and oral hygiene. However, just because the bacteria is transmitted does not mean gingivitis or gum disease will take form.
Like all forms of bacteria, gum disease-causing bacteria can pass from person to person. For example, transmission is possible with kissing, coughing, sneezing and sharing food or drinks. In addition, the mouth harbors 700+ types of bacteria. Therefore, saliva is a prime vehicle for transmitting gingivitis and gum disease between individuals.
Periodontal disease and tooth decay are the two biggest threats to dental health.
Every day we expose our oral health to various strains of bacteria. But did you know you can even get bacteria from your dog? Gum disease-causing bacteria can be transferred through kissing and other activities. However, if you maintain excellent oral hygiene, you will keep the bacteria at bay.
What is gingivitis?
Gingivitis is the first stage of gum disease; however, you can’t reverse gum disease, unlike gingivitis. Gingivitis is caused by bacteria that harbor dental plaque above and below your gums.
Dental plaque is a sticky bacteria film that feasts on left-over foods. If left untreated, plaque transforms into tenacious tartar. As a result, bacteria will proliferate and produce acid that causes gum inflammation.
Bleeding gums is one of the first noticeable signs experienced when you have gingivitis. Oral hygiene care, regular dental exams and routine cleanings will remove bacteria and prevent gum disease. If you treat gum disease sooner than later, you will prevent irreversible tissue damage and bone loss.Recommended Reading: What is Gingivitis? Causes, Symptoms & Treatment 2023
What is periodontal disease (gum disease)?
If gingivitis is left untreated, you will develop gum disease––also known as periodontal disease. Gum disease causes irreversible damage when gum tissue and bone pull away from your teeth. As a result, periodontal pockets enlarge and deepen between the teeth and gums. Periodontal pockets are routinely measured and can collect debris, store bacteria, and become infected. The deeper the pocket, the more likely bacteria will congregate and cause damage.
47.2% of adults aged 30 years and older have some form of periodontal disease, whereas 70.1% of adults 65 years and older have periodontal disease.
In addition, the plaque harbors bacteria that develop harmful toxins. These toxins break down the bone and connective tissue that hold your teeth in place. If left untreated, gum disease will cause your teeth to become loose and no longer secure. According to the American Dental Association (ADA), periodontal disease (gum disease) is the leading cause of adult tooth loss.
Recommended Reading: Gingivitis vs Periodontitis (Gum Disease) | Dentist’s Perspective
Gum disease is more common in men than women (56.4% vs. 38.4%), those living below the federal poverty level (65.4%), those with less than a high school education (66.9%), and current smokers (64.2%).
Risk factors of gum disease
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).
Other risk factors include
- Smoking or chewing tobacco
- Dry mouth
- Vitamin C deficiency
- Cardiovascular drugs
- Leukemia & HIV/AIDS
- Suppressed immunity
- Pregnancy (hormones)
- Genetics (family history)
- Viral & fungal infections
- Crooked teeth
- Poor-fitting dental appliance
- Poor-fitting fillings
- Poor oral hygiene
Is gum disease hereditary/genetic?
According to a recent study, in younger patients, genetic contribution may be as significant as 50%, while in older patients, the genetic contribution is at most 25%. Periodontitis is a complex chronic inflammatory disease caused by various factors, each playing a role simultaneously and interacting with the other. In addition, variants in at least 65 genes have been suggested to be associated with periodontitis. Therefore, if your dentist identifies you as at higher risk of gum disease, it’s paramount to be more vigilant in caring for your teeth.
- Oral hygiene
- Oral health
Can you pass gum disease to your kids?
Yes and no. If you are more susceptible to gum disease based on your gene makeup, you may pass the susceptibility to your kids through DNA. For example, specific genes indicate a higher likelihood of gum disease because of a poor immune response or other factors.
However, if you have gum disease and kiss your kids, you won’t pass gum disease as it’s a disease process; however, you will pass the gum disease-causing bacteria to them. In addition, if they have poor oral hygiene habits and are genetically susceptible to gum disease, they provide a suitable environment for the bacteria to multiply.
You can pass harmful bacteria that cause gum disease; however, you can’t directly pass the disease. Just because your child has been exposed to someone with gum disease doesn’t mean they will develop it.
Several methods can transmit gingivitis and gum disease-causing bacteria. For example, kissing involves a direct exchange of saliva with the recipient. The most common transmission methods are listed from highest to lowest risk.
Occasionally involves a direct exchange of saliva from person to person. You can directly transfer harmful bacteria; however, the disease (gingivitis and gum disease) will not. Patients with poor oral health are more susceptible to bacteria exposure which may lead to gingivitis or gum disease.
According to recent studies, the parent-to-child transmission of gingivitis isn’t all that rare. Due to shared bacteria, children are more likely to have gingivitis or gum disease if their parents do. If you have gingivitis or gum disease, it’s best to avoid kissing others until the condition has been managed. This can help prevent the spread of bacteria to anyone who may be vulnerable.
Harmful oral bacteria in your saliva can spread after using straws and other eating utensils. You can pass the bacteria to them if you suffer from gingivitis or gum disease and share these items with others. In addition, the recipient is more likely to allow the infection to form if they have poor oral hygiene.
The American Academy of Periodontology (AAP) recommends that if you, a family member, or a friend suspect you have periodontal disease, you should avoid sharing straws and utensils. This also includes cups, spoons, forks, knives, toothbrushes, and any other item that comes in contact with your saliva.
It’s unlikely that someone will develop gingivitis by simply drinking from the same cup as someone with the disease. However, the harmful bacteria may be left behind on the cup and transmitted into the recipient’s mouth after use. The recipient’s (host) genetics, immune system and oral health are the most common factors that indicate if gum disease will occur.
If you suffer from gingivitis or periodontal disease, minimize sharing drinks with family members, friends, or loved ones until the condition has been treated.
Treating gingivitis & gum disease
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.Recommended Reading: 5 Best Toothpastes for Gingivitis & Gum Disease 2023
Visit your dentist at least every 6 months for a dental check-up and routine dental cleaning.
Compared to treating gingivitis, treating periodontitis generally takes more time and expertise. For example, scaling and root planing are necessary to remove harmful bacteria above and below the gum line. In addition, adjunctive services that aid the removal of harmful bacteria include:
- Chlorhexidine – According to a recent study, chlorhexidine mouth rinse reduces gingivitis. Chlorhexidine can be used in-office and at home (prescription only). However, Chlorhexidine can cause tooth staining if used for an extended period.
- Laser therapy – According to research, low-level laser therapy reduces gingival inflammation. Laser therapy + Chlorhexidine was more effective at removing gum inflammation. Laser therapy is commonly used to treat periodontal disease.
- Fluoride treatment – According to a recent study, stannous fluoride (0.45%) effectively reduced gingival bleeding. However, a more significant reduction is observed if stannous fluoride is used with prophylaxis cleaning.
- Arestin – Arestin (Minocycline HCl) microspheres, in conjunction with scaling and root planing (periodontal treatment), reduces overall pocket depths. This antibiotic is delivered below the gum line to kill the bacteria at the source.
If gum disease is not responding to non-surgical treatments, your dentist may refer you to a periodontist. Periodontists are trained to provide more complex treatments than general dentists, especially for severe cases. Advanced treatment includes bone grafts, tissue grafts and osseous surgery.
Preventing gingivitis & gum disease
Gingivitis is a highly prevalent gum issue; however, you can prevent it. If people in your family have gum disease, you may face a greater risk of developing it. In addition, you may need more frequent checkups and cleanings to prevent gum disease.Recommended Reading: 14 Gingivitis Home Remedies That Work! (Dentist Recommended)
Encourage your family members to have their teeth cleaned to avoid spreading harmful bacteria between members. Talk to your dentist and dental hygienist about specific recommendations. In my experience, these are the best methods to prevent gingivitis from occurring.
- Use electric toothbrush
- Brush twice daily
- Floss regularly
- Use mouthwash
- Regular dental visits
- Don’t smoke or use tobacco
- Control diabetes (other medical issues)
- Eat balanced diet
Linking gum disease & health problems
According to a recent report, pleiotropy (multiple traits by a single gene) is linked between periodontitis and cardiovascular diseases. In addition, four genetic links are shared between coronary artery disease and periodontitis. Many studies have shown a link between oral and bodily health. Often these same bacteria which cause gum disease travel through the bloodstream to other parts of your body, causing severe damage.
In addition, pregnant women who have gum disease are more susceptible to delivering their baby pre-term. Periodontal disease is also linked to diabetes, heart disease, osteoporosis, and stroke. Taking care of your oral health is essential as it’s the source of many harmful bacteria.
When to see the dentist?
If you notice a change in your gum health, including bleeding gums, redness, puffiness, or general tenderness, seek help from a licensed dentist. The sooner you receive care, the less likely harmful bacteria will cause irreversible damage to your gum tissue and bone.Recommended Reading: Acute Necrotizing Ulcerative Gingivitis (ANUG) “Trench Mouth”
When the gums are swollen, the lining becomes ulcerated, and the gums are prone to bleed even with gentle brushing and flossing. In addition, if the gums are inflamed, they may start pulling away from the neck of the tooth. This causes gaps between the teeth and the gums, known as gum pockets (or periodontal pockets).
- Red & purple gums
- Swollen & puffy gums
- Gum inflammation & discoloration
- Gum separation & recession
- Bleeding gums
- Halitosis (bad breath)
- Tender gums
- Pain when chewing
- Sensitive teeth & gums
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
My Experience & Expertise
Understanding how and why gingivitis and gum disease-causing bacteria can be transmitted will help your overall health. If you have gingivitis or gum disease, limit saliva contact with others until the disease is treated and managed. Methods like kissing and sharing straws, foods and drinks can provide a way for bacteria to transmit.
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!
- Li Y. Prevalence and severity of gingivitis in American adults. Am J Dentistry. 2010.
- Gingivitis and periodontitis: Overview Cologne, Germany: Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care (IQWiG). 2020.
- WebMD. Treatments for Gum Disease 2021.
- IS GINGIVITIS CONTAGIOUS? Therabreath.
- Loos B. The role of inflammation and genetics in periodontal disease Periodontol 2000, 2020.