Signs and symptoms of gum disease

Learn about the signs and symptoms of gum disease

Book Appointment

Gum disease is more common than you might think

Gum disease is a leading cause of tooth loss in adults and is extremely common. There are many signs of gum disease. But there is a problem: in its early stages, gum disease gives little warning. You may not have experienced any pain or other noticeable symptoms, and it may come as shock to learn that you have gum disease.

Good oral hygiene at home and regular brushing and flossing go a long way to helping prevent gum disease. But gum disease is also associated with other factors such as immune deficiencies or hormonal changes, or it could just be hereditary. 

That’s why it’s important to always be on the lookout for signs and symptoms of gum disease and keep up with regular check-up and clean visits to your dentist or specialist.

What are the symptoms of gum disease?

One of the dangers of gum disease is that early symptoms and signs are not obvious, and you may not even notice them until it’s too late.

The main signs of gums disease are:

  1. Swollen or puffy gums

    This is one of the first signs. Your gums may also feel tender when you eat or brush or your teeth. 
  1. Your gums look red instead of pink 

    Healthy gums are pinkish in colour. Major alarm bells should ring if your gums look red instead of pink.
  1. Bleeding while brushing or flossing

    Bleeding gums are one of the most-often missed signs of gum disease, because people think it’s happening because they’re brushing or flossing too hard. It isn’t. Healthy gums don’t bleed and if you’re experiencing this symptom, you need to seek help immediately. 
  1. Soreness and sensitivity in your teeth or gum

    If a sip of cold water makes you wince, it could be because sensitive parts of your tooth that are usually protected by healthy gums have been left exposed due to gum disease. 
  1. Chronic bad breath, or an unpleasant taste in your mouth 

    Even healthy mouths are home to billions of bacteria. Bacteria will form a sticky substance called plaque on any hard surface (teeth, fillings, dentures etc) in your mouth. Plaque is made up of a continually-growing microbial population that is resistant to antibodies, antibiotics and mouth-rinses. The longer the plaque has been there, the more harmful type of bacteria - which tend to be smelly - take over. That’s why bad breath is a major red flag for gum disease. 
  1. Gappy teeth, loose teeth, or changes in your bite

    Gum disease attacks the ligaments and bone that supports the teeth, without that support your teeth could move and start spreading apart, or worse, fall out completely. If you have gum disease, you may notice changes in the way your teeth fit together when you bite, gaps in your smile, or you could feel that some teeth are actually loose. 
  1. ‘Longer-looking’ teeth

    People with gum disease sometimes comment that their teeth look like they’re getting ‘longer’. It’s impossible for teeth to physically become longer. But periodontal disease can cause the gums and even bone around teeth to recede, exposing more of the tooth than you’re used to seeing. 
  1. Sores or pus in your mouth

    Pus is a byproduct of the body’s way of dealing with severe infections, and is a sign of very advanced gum disease. Pus usually means there is also an abscess around the tooth. If you’re experiencing this symptom, you need urgent treatment. 

Diagnosing gum disease

You can’t diagnose gum disease yourself. Only a dentist or a specialist can tell you if you have gingivitis or periodontitis, and how severe it is if so. 

To ensure an accurate diagnosis, your dentist or specialist may:

  • Review your medical history to pinpoint factors that could be contributing to your symptoms, such as smoking, or taking some medications
  • Perform a thorough examination to check for plaque and tartar buildup and to see if your gums are bleeding
  • Measure the depth of the crevice between gums and teeth. When these crevices are deepened due to gum disease it is called a ‘pocket’. Pockets deeper than 4 mm usually indicate periodontitis.
  • Take dental x-rays to check for bone loss 

The symptoms of gum disease can go unnoticed, even if you see your dentist for regular check-up and cleans. For example, your dentist may not know you’re experiencing bleeding every time you brush or floss. That’s why, if you have any symptoms, the best thing to do is see a specialist. 

Gum disease specialists are called periodontists. 

Unlike other kinds of dental treatment - for example, dental crowns - gum disease is an actual disease that needs to be cured. Or if it has already advanced too far, an ongoing management plan is vital.  

Periodontists are dentists that have put years of extra study into understanding gum disease specifically, so they are best placed to help you cure or manage this serious condition.

How do I know if my gum disease can be cured?

There are two types of gum disease, gingivitis and periodontitis.  

The bad news is that only gingivitis can be fully cured. But it’s not all doom and gloom. Even if your gum disease has already progressed beyond gingivitis and developed into periodontitis, it can be managed to maintain your teeth in the long term.

Each stage has its own set of symptoms that progressively worsen as the disease progresses.  You can find in-depth information on each stage here: Stages of Gum Disease.

How is gum disease treated?

Treating gum disease very much depends on what stage the condition has reached, and on your overall health.

For example, if the disease is at its earliest stage, gingivitis, a thorough professional clean, as well as a sustained improvement in their home teeth care seeing your dentist more regularly can be enough to fully cure the condition. Believe it or not, cleaning your teeth well is a difficult skill and almost everyone needs some coaching to clean their teeth properly.

If the disease advances to periodontitis, there are surgical and non-surgical treatment options. 

Non-surgical treatments include scaling or debridement of the teeth, which is a deep, thorough clean of your teeth including roots below your gums. This may sound scary, but local anaesthetic means you won’t feel a thing.

Surgical options include gum flap or bone surgery, and soft tissue or bone grafts. Get the full picture on potential gum disease treatments here


The signs and symptoms of gum disease can be difficult to spot and can go unnoticed for long periods. 

The best way to prevent gum disease from becoming incurable is to take good care of your teeth and gums at home with regular brushing and flossing, and have regular check-up and cleans.

If you notice any changes in your mouth, no matter how subtle, it’s worth checking with your dentist or periodontist immediately.  

Get more information about the causes and risk factors of gum disease here.

Next article

What is gum disease?