Treating gum disease 

The best way to treat gum disease is to practise good oral hygiene, although additional dental and medical treatments are sometimes necessary.

Oral hygiene

Good oral hygiene involves:

  • brushing your teeth for about two minutes last thing at night before you go to bed and on one other occasion everyday – it doesn't matter if you use an electric or manual toothbrush but some people find it easier to clean their teeth thoroughly with an electric toothbrush
  • using toothpaste that contains the right amount of fluoride (a natural mineral that helps protect against tooth decay)
  • flossing your teeth regularly – preferably daily, before brushing your teeth
  • not smoking
  • regularly visiting your dentist – at least once every one to two years, but more frequently if necessary

See the teeth cleaning guide for more information and advice about how to keep your teeth clean.

Mouthwash

Antiseptic mouthwashes containing chlorhexidine or hexetidine are available over the counter from pharmacies. However, there's some debate about whether using mouthwash is necessary for people with healthy gums.

Your dentist may recommend using mouthwash if it helps control the build-up of plaque (the sticky substance that forms when bacteria collects on the surface of your teeth). Your dentist will be able to advise you about which type of mouthwash is most suitable and how to use it.

Chlorhexidine mouthwash can stain your teeth brown if you use it regularly. Rinse your mouth thoroughly between brushing your teeth and using a chlorhexidine mouthwash because some ingredients in toothpaste can prevent the mouthwash working.  

Dental treatments

Some of the dental treatments described below may also be recommended if you have gum disease.

Scale and polish

To remove plaque and tartar (hardened plaque) that can build up on your teeth, your dentist may suggest that you have your teeth scaled and polished. This is a "professional clean" usually carried out at your dental surgery by a dental hygienist.

The dental hygienist will scrape away plaque and tartar from your teeth using special instruments, then polish your teeth to remove marks or stains. If a lot of plaque or tartar has built up, you may need to have more than one scale and polish.

The price of a scale and polish can vary depending on what needs to be carried out, so ask your dental hygienist how much it will cost beforehand.

NHS dental treatment costs £18.80 for basic treatment (band 1) and £51.30 for more advanced treatment (band 2).

Read more about NHS dental charges.

Root planing

In some cases of gum disease, root planing (debridement) may be required. This is a deep clean under the gums that gets rid of bacteria from the roots of your teeth.

Before having the treatment, you may need to have a local anaesthetic (painkilling medication) to numb the area. You may experience some pain and discomfort for up to 48 hours after having root planing.

Further treatment

If you have severe gum disease, you may need further treatment, such as periodontal surgery. In some cases, it's necessary to remove the affected tooth. Your dentist will be able to tell you about the procedure needed and how it's carried out. If necessary, they can refer you to a specialist.

If you're having surgery or root planing, you may be given antibiotics (medication to treat infections). Your dentist will tell you whether this is necessary.

Acute necrotising ulcerative gingivitis

Acute necrotising ulcerative gingivitis (ANUG) should always be treated by a dentist. However, if you see your GP before visiting a dentist, they may provide you with some treatment while you wait to see your dentist.

As well as the oral hygiene advice and dental treatments mentioned above, treatments for ANUG may also include antibiotics, painkillers and different types of mouthwash. These are described below.

Antibiotics 

Treatment with antibiotics, such as metronidazole or amoxicillin, may be recommended if you have ANUG. You'll usually have to take these for three days.

Amoxicillin isn't suitable for people allergic to penicillin. Metronidazole can react with alcohol, causing you to feel very unwell. You shouldn't drink alcohol while you're taking metronidazole and for 48 hours after you finish the course of treatment.

Other side effects of metronidazole and amoxicillin can include nausea (feeling sick), vomiting and diarrhoea.

Painkillers

Paracetamol and ibuprofen are the most commonly prescribed painkillers. They're also available over the counter from pharmacies. They may help reduce pain and discomfort.

However, paracetamol and ibuprofen aren't suitable for everyone, so read the manufacturer's instructions before taking them.

Mouthwash

Mouthwash containing chlorhexidine or hydrogen peroxide may be prescribed to treat ANUG. Some chlorhexidine mouthwashes are also available over the counter, though they may not be as effective as a hydrogen peroxide mouthwash.

You should always read the instructions before using mouthwash. Some types may need to be diluted in water before they're taken.

Stopping smoking

Smoking is one of the most significant risk factors for gum disease.

Giving up smoking can greatly improve your oral hygiene.

If you need help or advice about giving up smoking, call the free NHS Smoking Helpline on 0300 123 1044.

Your GP can give you information and advice about giving up smoking. You can also visit NHS Smokefree.

Page last reviewed: 04/02/2016

Next review due: 01/02/2019