Types of Gum Disease: Stages, Factors & Related Conditions

Types of Gum Disease: Stages, Factors & Related Conditions article banner

Gum Disease Stages

Chances are you or someone you know has a form of gum disease. In fact, 75% of Americans will develop gum disease in their lifetime. It’s important to distinguish that there isn’t just one form of gum disease, but multiple that may affect your overall oral health. If left untreated, certain forms of gum disease can leave you at risk for certain forms of cancer, diabetes, and heart disease. It’s important to educate yourself of the symptoms, risks and treatments for gingivitis—and its more advanced stage, periodontitis—the two most common forms of gum disease.

Gingivitis is the most well-known form of gum disease—you’ve heard about it from your dentist, or seen ads about fighting it on TV—but besides knowing the name, can you identify what gingivitis actually is? Gingivitis develops when plaque that contains bacteria slowly backs up on your teeth and gums. Given time, the toxins released by the built-up plaque begins to damage your teeth and gums, making them sensitive, irritated and puffy. Prolonging gingivitis can lead to much more serious conditions.

If left untreated, gingivitis can turn into periodontitis—a much more dangerous form of gum disease. Periodontal disease can cause an infection that destroys the bone supporting your teeth which may lead to tooth loss, bleeding gums and bad breath.

Gum Disease Risk Factors

For many people, mild gum disease won’t show any symptoms, but if you notice anything different about your mouth or teeth, be sure to tell your dental professional. Failing to maintain a proper oral care routine at home puts you at major risk to develop gum disease. Gum disease is also caused by a litany of other factors that have nothing to do with brushing your teeth. For example, tobacco users often see an increase in disease along their gum lines. In fact, smokers are 2x more likely to develop gum disease. Changes in the human body can also lead to gum disease. Hormonal changes caused by pregnancy can lead 60-70% of pregnant women to experience issues with gum disease.

Conditions Related to Gum Disease

Conditions like diabetes and heart disease can also be impacted by gum disease. In fact, 95% of people who suffer from diabetes will experience some form of gum disease. Gum disease also impacts heart health, and could even lead to cardiovascular disease if not treated.


Several types of health conditions contribute to poor healing of oral tissues. But people with diabetes should always be aware that they are at risk for poor healing from any type of dental problem. Diabetes is one of the most common endocrine disorders. People with diabetes are at greater risk for infections and often suffer from dry mouth, which can promote tooth decay and gingivitis. And because people with diabetes are also prone to poor healing of oral tissues, gingivitis can be more difficult to treat if it does occur. This is why a regular oral care routine is especially important. If you have sensitive teeth or gums, choose a toothbrush with soft bristles and a soft floss to minimize discomfort. If you have diabetes, be sure to tell your dental professional. He or she may want results from a blood test to show how well you control your condition.


Leukemia can increase your risk of developing gum disease. Gingivitis can be an early symptom of leukemia, especially in children. Data from studies of childhood leukemia have shown that about 25 percent of children with leukemia develop gingivitis as the first sign of cancer. In leukemia patients, gingivitis occurs when leukemia cells infiltrate the gums, and gingivitis can become severe because leukemia reduces the body’s ability to fight the infection. A patient with active leukemia who develops gingivitis may need to refrain from tooth brushing and flossing and wipe the teeth and gums with clean gauze. Because blood doesn’t clot well in leukemia patients, even gently brushing and flossing can cause too much bleeding from infected gums. Also, a dentist or dental hygienist may recommend a specialized mouth rinse to help control plaque while the patient is undergoing treatment for leukemia. Once leukemia is in remission, most patients can follow a regular oral care routine of twice-daily tooth brushing and daily flossing, along with regular visits to the dentist. Because of the plentiful blood supply to the gums, they can return to a healthy condition with proper oral care. For sensitive teeth and gums, choose an extra-soft or soft-bristled brush and soft floss.


Although it is rare, a condition called desquamative gingivitis can occur in older women after they go through menopause. This type of gingivitis can be extremely painful because the outermost layers of the gums pull away from the underlying tissue and expose nerves. The gums can become so loose that the outer layer can be rubbed away with the slightest touch of a cotton swab. Treatment of desquamative gingivitis involves working closely with a dentist. If you are a woman still experiencing other symptoms of menopause, some type of hormone therapy may help. Or your dentist may prescribe a corticosteroid in the form of pills to swallow or a paste that you apply directly to the gums.

Vitamin C Deficiency

Gum tissue conditions can have many causes, but don’t forget to consider poor nutrition. Inadequate vitamin C can promote bleeding gums that can develop into gingivitis if left untreated. Vitamin C also helps the body perform maintenance and repair on bones, teeth, and cartilage, and it also helps wounds heal.

Gum Disease Treatments

There are ways in which you can treat or severely limit gum disease. First and foremost, follow your dental hygienist’s or dentist’s instructions for regular oral care at home in order to get the most benefit out of your treatment. That means twice-daily tooth brushing and daily flossing, plus regular visits to the dentist for follow-ups and professional cleanings. If you experience any new problems following a regular oral care routine, ask your dental hygienist or dentist to recommend products that can make your routine easier. An electric toothbrush with a round brush head—like the Oral-B Genius Pro 8000—and dental floss are designed with your gum health in mind.

When you want to treat gum disease, especially gingivitis, try these simple but effective methods:

  1. Brush twice a day, every day

  2. Floss daily

  3. Rinse thoroughly with an anti-gingivitis mouthwash

  4. Visit your dental professional regularly

Questions About Gum Disease

Q: What does gum disease look like?

A: Gingivitis—and its later form, periodontitis—are formed by plaque buildup along the gum line. Though you may not notice anything in mild cases of gum disease, sensitive teeth, bleeding or swollen gums are the most common warning signs that something needs to be addressed.

Q: Can gum disease be cured?

A: Gum disease can be cured—and prevented, for that matter—by adhering to a routine recommended by dentists. That is: brushing twice-a-day, every day. Using floss daily. Rinsing with an anti-gingivitis mouthwash and visiting you dentist regularly. Using an electric toothbrush with a round brush head—like the Oral-B Genius Pro 8000—also helps to combat the effects of gum disease.

Q: Can gum disease be reversed?

A: Gum disease symptoms can be reversed by adhering to a strict oral care regimen.

Q: What exactly Is gum disease?

A: The American Dental Association (ADA) defines gum disease as "an infection of the tissues surrounding and supporting the teeth." What does this mean to you? It means that gum disease is the leading cause of tooth loss in adults.

Q: What causes gum disease?

A: Gum disease is caused by plaque—a semi-transparent, sticky film of bacteria that forms on your teeth and can build up to create damaging toxins if you don't have a proper oral care regimen. The beginning stage of this plaque buildup is a characteristic of gingivitis. Plaque itself is caused naturally by the things you do every day, such as eating or breathing.

Q: How do I know if I have gum disease?

A: There are several telltale signs of gum disease. They include:

  • Bleeding gums (especially when you brush and floss)

  • Tender, swollen gums

  • A receding gum line

  • Persistent bad breath

  • Loose teeth

Q: Is gum disease inevitable?

A: Fortunately, it's not. While we all have plaque (it's naturally occurring), there are several easy steps you can take every day to help keep your smile healthy for life. And while you might be familiar with each step, you might not realize how important it is that you do all the steps together, every day.

Q: What if I think I have gum disease?

A: Don't worry, you're not alone. More than 80 percent of adults have some form of gum disease. In most cases, you can help reverse, and even protect against, its effects. So how do you treat gum disease? Great question!