Gum disease 


The Tokkels: stop tooth decay

You can stop tooth decay by following a few simple rules. Use fluoride toothpaste; spit, don't rinse; brush before, not after, meals.

Media last reviewed: 14/11/2013

Next review due: 14/11/2015

NHS dentists

Everyone should be able to access good quality NHS dental services. There is no need to register with a dentist.

Simply find a practice that's convenient for you, whether it's near home or work, and phone to see if any appointments are available.

Read more about how to find an NHS dentist.

Gum disease is a very common condition where the gums become swollen, sore or infected.

It's estimated to affect more than half of all adults in the UK to some degree and most people experience it at least once. It is much less common in children.

If you have gum disease, your gums may bleed when you brush your teeth and you may have bad breath. This stage of gum disease is known as gingivitis.

If gingivitis is not treated, a condition called periodontitis can develop. This affects the tissues that support teeth and hold them in place. In the UK, up to 15% of adults are estimated to have severe periodontitis, with many more affected less severely.

If periodontitis is not treated, the bone in your jaw can decay and small spaces can open up between the gum and teeth. Your teeth can become loose and may eventually fall out.

Read more about the symptoms of gum disease.

What causes gum disease?

Gum disease is caused by a build-up of plaque on the teeth. Plaque is a sticky substance that contains bacteria, which forms when you eat and drink.

Some bacteria in plaque are harmless, but some are very harmful for the health of your gums. If you do not remove plaque from your teeth by brushing them, it will build up and irritate your gums, leading to redness, swelling and soreness.

Read more about the causes of gum disease.

Seeing your dentist

You should make an appointment to see your dentist if your gums are painful, swollen or if they bleed when you brush your teeth. Find a dentist near you.

Your dentist can carry out a thorough dental examination to check the health of your gums, which may involve inserting a thin metal stick with a bend in one end (periodontal probe) beside your teeth.

In some cases, a number of X-rays may be needed to check the condition of your teeth and jaw bone.

Preventing and treating gum disease

Mild cases of gum disease can usually be treated by maintaining a good level of oral hygiene. This includes brushing your teeth at least twice a day and flossing regularly. You should also make sure you attend regular dental check-ups.

In most cases, your dentist or dental hygienist will be able to give your teeth a thorough clean and remove any hardened plaque (tartar). They will also be able to show you how to clean your teeth effectively to help prevent plaque building up in the future.

If you have severe gum disease, you will usually need to have further medical and dental treatment and, in some cases, surgery may need to be carried out. This will usually be performed by a specialist in gum problems (periodontics).

Read more about treating gum disease and keeping your teeth clean.

Dental check-ups

It is important to have regular dental check-ups so that any problems with your teeth and gums can be detected and treated early.

If you have never had gum disease and have good oral health, you may only need to visit your dentist every one to two years for a check-up.

You may need to visit your dentist more frequently if you have had problems with gum disease in the past. At each appointment your dentist will advise when you need your next appointment.

If you have an increased risk of developing gum problems – for example, if you smoke or have diabetes – you may be advised to visit your dentist more often so your teeth and gums can be closely monitored.

Complications of gum disease

If you have untreated gum disease that develops into periodontitis, it can lead to further complications, such as:

  • gum abscesses (painful collections of pus)
  • receding gums
  • loose teeth
  • loss of teeth

Read more about the complications of gum disease.

Page last reviewed: 15/01/2014

Next review due: 15/01/2016


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The 7 comments posted are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

JoeBolt said on 27 October 2014

I've just returned from a dental check up with a diagnosis of moderate periodontitis. In a couple of locations the pocket depth is approaching 5mm (severe). I'm very surprised and a little annoyed at this because for the last 25 years I've just been having annual check-ups (on the advice of the dentist) with nothing more than a little descaling required. How can I have gone from having no diagnosed problems one year ago to moderate/severe periodontitis today? Is it because I saw a new dentist today? Was my old dentist not as thorough as he should have been? I'm 49 and visit an NHS dental clinic.

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Tim7 said on 22 August 2014

I had deep cleaning carried out by a dentist 7 years ago. The gum around my three front teeth became infected, the teeth became loose, and in the end I had to have them removed. Since then I had a denture, but have been plagued by gum infections, and gradually one of the teeth next to the denture also became loose and recently had to be removed. I had a new denture, but now I'm experiencing more infection of the gum, and an x-ray has revealed that there is a deep pocket beside the next tooth along - a canine. I clean my teeth twice a day, rinse with mouthwash, and uses inter-dental brushes too. How can I stop this creeping periodontitis? In the end it looks like I'm going to loose all my teeth..... :(

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JeniBowers said on 07 February 2014

Very much agree with Duncan I have had acute periodontitis for 20 years no amount of corsodyl and flossing would keep it at bay the slightest hint of a cold or any other ailment and i'd be back at the dentist begging for antibiotics. Which is insane we can't just say "hey it's back again please write me a script". instead of suffering long weekends and sitting in the waiting rooms of emergency dentists but most maddening of all is they know i'm going to lose all my teeth to this after many many years of pain but "The teeth are healthy" and don't need to be removed therefore no treatment is available on the nhs. I lose my first 5 in a few weeks after 10 years of looking like buggs bunny and having pain daily the prospect of having dentures fitted made me cry with joy that's 5 less places for an abcess to form. I had one course of deep root cleaning before the nhs deemed it unworthy that was 20 years ago. You find an Nhs dentist with a hygienist you have won the lottery don't accept no for an answer like I did an live with the consequences. I had a nice smile when I was diagnosed at 19 today i'm ashamed to be seen. I don't know about it's relationship to heart disease but i can tell you my father suffered the same and had all his teeth removed at 30 out of sheer desperation at 35 he had a triple heart bypass at 54 he died of a heart attack. Is that my future?

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Duncan Scorgie said on 27 May 2013

This article identifies that the incidence of gum disease is much higher in the UK than on a global scale.

Part of that is undoubtedly because of the vast underfunding for treating gum disease by the NHS in general dental practice. This has been brought about by an unofficial policy of "implicit rationing", whereby treatments are denied to people by making it impossible for the dentist to treat by reducing the fees year on year, (or rather by not keeping up with inflation!). Implicit rationing is, by definition, an implied policy rather than explicitly stated.

What is worse is that the evidence for the link between gum disease and other conditions is becoming stronger. This does not mean that treating gum disease will prevent heart disease, but similarly it has also not been shown that this is not the case.

We do know however that diabetics tend to improve glycaemic control when their gum disease is better controlled.

Perhaps it is false economy for the treatment of gum disease to be so heavily underfunded? Time and more research will tell whether the role of gum disease in heart disease is coincidental or whether there is a cause-effect relationship.

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Musto said on 24 May 2013


Thank you for your recent comments. Following some further research, the statistic illustrating the incidence of people with severe periodontitis has been corrected to 10-15% of the UK population which is certainly a more accurate reflection. The overall global incidence of gum disease (15-20%) has also been added at the start of the topic.

Many thanks once again and apologies for the previous slightly misleading info.

Editorial team, NHS Choices

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Ian Dunn said on 19 May 2013

Some of your figures are wrong. Gingivitis affects the majority of the population at some point and Periodontitis, the destructive form or gum disease, affects around about 10-15% of the UK adult population severely and many more to mild-moderate levels.

These figures can be found in the last UK Dental Health Survey.

This condition should not be underplayed as it has aesthetic, health and functional issues once the disease is established and in most cases is treatable.

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P McCormack said on 15 February 2013

I had a Bacterial Maxillary Sinus Infection 20 years ago my GP repeatedly failed to treat it went away by itself after 4 years.
Because of the constant venting of pus most of witch went in my mouth I also had Gingivitis for that whole time.

I'm currently loosing all of my teeth one by one I’ve pulled three of my upper molars with my fingers now only have two teeth that I can chew with.

My NHS dentist says at 44 I'm to young for false teeth and Guys hospital don’t want to know.

Nothing to do with hygene all to do with a negligent gp

i.Ve just been left to rot.

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