Can You Reverse Gum Disease?

Know what gum disease looks like, when to contact your dentist, and how to prevent future spreading.

Gum disease is a common dental condition that can cause redness, swelling, sensitivity, and pain in the gums. While these symptoms may not seem too bad, as the disease progresses the intensity of these symptoms may increase, but many people experience no symptoms at all until it is too late for teeth to be retained.

It’s a condition that can affect people of all ages. In fact, 47.2% of adults ages 30 and older have some form of gum disease

The good news is when caught early, gum disease can be reversed or treated to avoid additional progression of the disease – that’s why early recognition is so important. 

If you are starting to notice changes in your gums, it’s important to contact your dentist right away. The sooner you address the problem, the better chances you have at stopping the disease and avoiding any additional spread. 

Many people don’t know what to look for or how to prevent gum disease. With the proper knowledge, you can address any potential concerns with your dentist before they become irreversible, and prevent the progression of gum disease. 

In this article, we’ll take a look at the different stages of gum disease and how early prevention can help you reverse your gum disease diagnosis. 

Here’s a quick overview of the topics that will be covered: 

  • The five stages of gum disease 
  • What causes gum disease? 
  • How to know if you have gum disease
  • How your dentist will diagnose gum disease
  • Available treatments for gum disease
  • Gum disease prevention 

Knowing the five stages can help you identify and reverse gum disease early on 

When looking at the stages of gum disease, it can be broken down into five main groups – starting with the healthy gums and leading up to advanced gum disease. 

Each stage of gum disease looks a little different than the one before it. It becomes more prevalent through gum recession, redness, swelling, bleeding, and discomfort as the disease progresses. 

diagram showing the stages of periodontal disease
There are five main stages of gum disease, each growing worse over time. While you may only notice slight irritation in the early stages, you’ll find that once it has progressed to the advanced stage the symptoms can become severe. It's important to note that many people will not experience any of these symptoms, but that doesn't mean the signs are not there. Source:

Once the disease has progressed beyond the early stages, it becomes harder to treat and results in permanent damage. That’s why it’s important to acknowledge changes in your gums and notify your dentist about concerns early on. 

Understanding what to look for and when to contact your dentist is the first step in diagnosing gum disease. In this section, we’ll take a look at the five main stages to help you know what to look for and what symptoms are causes for concern. 

Stage 1: healthy gums

The very first stage we’ll look at is actually the stage before you start to notice the effects of gum disease. This is when your gums are healthy and have not been compromised due to bacteria and plaque build up. 

While you don’t technically have gum disease during this stage, it’s important to understand what healthy gums should look and feel like. 

illustration of healthy gums
If you have healthy gums, you’ll notice that they are firm, pink, and tight to your teeth. This is the ideal stage to keep your gums in – and that can be done with the proper dental hygiene and care. 

When your gums are healthy, they should be firm, pink, and fit closely to your teeth. There should not be any gaps or gum recession. You should not be experiencing pain, swelling or redness. 

At this stage, you should have no concerns and can continue on with your everyday routine. 

Stage 2: gingivitis 

Gingivitis is the earliest and most mild stage of gum disease, which is classified by inflammation. During this stage of gum disease, you may experience irritation, redness and swelling that affect the gums around the base of the teeth. 

This is the stage that most people start to notice something is off in their mouth and recognize that they need to have it addressed.

illustration of a tooth with gingivitis
If you’re experiencing inflammation and irritation in your gums, it’s possible you’re starting to develop gingivitis. This is the first stage of gum disease and when most people start to realize that something isn’t quite right. 

The following symptoms are common signs of gingivitis

  • Swollen or puffy gums
  • Red gums
  • Gums that bleed easily when brushing or flossing
  • Bad breath
  • Receding gums
  • Tender gums

If you notice irritation in your gums and are experiencing any of these symptoms, it’s a good indicator that you need to contact your dentist. When left untreated, gingivitis can become a more serious problem and lead to later-stage gum diseases. 

Your dentist will do a scaling in the presence of generalized moderate to severe gingival

inflammation to remove any plaque build-up to help prevent further disease development. They’ll also likely instruct you to make sure you are brushing and flossing your teeth on a regular basis. You will also likely be prescribed toothpastes and rinses

Stage 3: early periodontitis 

Once gum disease has progressed beyond gingivitis, it’s now considered a periodontal disease. 

Periodontitis can be broken out into multiple stages, starting with the early stage. This is the stage when your gums gums have experienced the least damage and still have successful treatment options. 

illustration of mild periodontitis
Early periodontitis is the next stage of gum disease you may experience. It comes with more irritation and inflammation of the gums but can also start to impact the bone and lead to tooth loss. 

At this point, you’ll likely notice your gums are much more inflamed and may be tender to the touch. Your gums may start to recede, leaving room for bacteria to make their way between the teeth and gums, leading to infections. The bone around your teeth may also become compromised during this stage.

The following are common symptoms of early periodontitis: 

  • Inflamed gums
  • Sensitive and tender gums when touched
  • Gums may start to recede but likely imperceptible 
  • Space begins to form around the teeth 
  • Bleeding when brushing and flossing 

If you suspect you are in the early periodontitis stage of gum disease, you’ll want to see your dental provider as soon as possible to avoid any further progression or tooth loss. While it is not possible to undo the damage done, your dentist can help prevent future damage. 

Stage 4: moderate periodontitis

The next stage of gum disease is considered moderate periodontitis. This will occur when the early stages of periodontitis were not addressed in a timely manner and the disease has continued to progress. 

illustration of moderate periodontitis
Moderate periodontitis will have many of the same symptoms as the early stages, but things will start to become worse over time.

At this stage, many of the symptoms you were already experiencing will become worse. Your gums will continue to recede, the attachment between the bone and the tooth, made up of connective fibers, become damaged or weakened, leading to teeth moving or becoming loose, and you’ll experience more bleeding than before. 

The following are common symptoms of moderate periodontitis: 

  • Visibly receding gums occur sometimes, but not always depending on inflammation
  • Loosening teeth
  • Discharge
  • Teeth moving positions 
  • Infection
  • Increasing food impaction between teeth

If you are experiencing symptoms that align with moderate periodontitis, you will want to contact your dental provider as soon as possible to address the problems. Ignoring the signs of moderate periodontitis can lead to infection spreading and irreversible tooth loss. 

Stage 5: advanced periodontitis 

The last stage of gum disease is advanced periodontitis. 

At this point, the disease has taken over your gums and destroyed the bone supporting your teeth. Once the gum disease has made it to this stage, there is a high chance that spontaneous tooth loss will occur. 

illustration of severe periodontitis
The final stage of gum disease is advanced periodontitis. In this stage, you’ll likely have severe pain, gums that have drastically receded, and will likely need to have teeth extracted due to irreversible damage from the disease. 

In the advanced periodontitis stage, you’ll notice that your gums have receded drastically and you’ll notice that more of your tooth is exposed than ever before. Your teeth may feel loose, you’ll feel tenderness when chewing, and experience bad breath. You may also notice abscesses due to infection spreading below your gums. 

The following are common symptoms of advanced periodontitis: 

  • Extremely receded gum lines
  • Teeth look longer than they once did 
  • Loose teeth 
  • Severe pain when eating
  • Bad breath
  • Foul taste in your mouth
  • Abscesses 

If you’ve made it to the final stage of gum disease, there is a high chance you will need to have teeth removed. You’ll want to make an appointment to visit your dentist to determine what the best plan is for your case. 

What causes gum disease?

There are a few different causes of gum disease, but the most common is plaque buildup. 

illustration of gums with plaque
Plaque and bacteria build up are some of the most common causes of gum disease. Without the proper cleaning and care, plaque can start to wreak havoc on your mouth and cause you to develop gingivitis and other stages of gum disease. Source:

Plaque is a thick layer of bacteria that forms on your gums and teeth. When plaque is left on your teeth for an extended period of time, it can cause your gums to start moving through the different stages of gum disease. 

This is why it’s so important to practice good dental hygiene by brushing and flossing your teeth on a regular basis. Removing this plaque helps keep your teeth and gums clean and lessens your chances of getting gum disease due to it building up. 

Plaque build up isn’t the only cause of gum disease. Here are a few others to consider as well: 

  • Smoking and chewing tobacco
  • Prescription medications
  • Nutritional deficiencies
  • Crooked teeth

If you notice that something seems to have changed with your teeth or gums, it’s always best to contact your dentist right away. They can provide you with a deep cleaning and proactively address any gum disease concerns before you’ve hit the point of no return. 

How to know if you have gum disease

Healthy gums look firm, pink, and fit tightly around your teeth. They should not have any redness, irritation, or look like they are pulling away from your teeth – these things are potential signs that you may have gum disease. 

Some of the common symptoms you might experience include things like: 

  • Swollen or puffy gums
  • Bright red gums
  • Gums that are tender when touched
  • Pockets between gums and teeth
  • Gums that bleed easily when brushing and flossing
  • Bad breath and taste in your mouth
  • Pus between your teeth and gums
  • Painful chewing 
  • Receding gum lines 

Any prolonged irritation or discomfort in your gums or teeth should be addressed, as these could be signs that something isn’t quite right.

If you suspect that you may have gum disease, you’ll want to contact your dentist right away. The earlier the problem is addressed, the more likely they are to help resolve the issue and save your gums and teeth from further damage. 

How your dentist will diagnose gum disease

The first step to diagnosing your gum disease is making an appointment with your dental provider. Only they can determine if the symptoms you are experiencing are truly related to gum disease or something else. 

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At your dental visit, your dentist will do the following to determine your diagnosis

  • A complete examination of your mouth, paying close attention to any signs of inflammation in your gums.
  • Measure any pockets around your teeth to determine if they are deeper than they should be.
  • Discuss your medical history to identify potential causes, such as if you regularly smoke or are taking any medications.
  • Take X-rays to determine if there has been any bone loss.

Once your dentist has completed their exam, they will be able to tell you whether you’re experiencing gum disease and at what stage. 

They will then discuss what your treatment options are and help you to determine the next steps for your case. Depending on how advanced your gum disease is, they may also refer you to a periodontist, a gum disease expert, for further treatment. 

Available treatments to address and reverse gum disease

Some gum disease treatments are available that can help save your teeth and gums, depending on how far your disease has progressed.

It could be as simple as visiting your dentist for a professional cleaning to get rid of any excess plaque and tartar that has built up. Or it could be as advanced as needing gum surgery. In some cases, if the gum disease has progressed too far, the only option may be to extract the teeth and treat the infection.

Professional cleaning

If you’re still in the early stages of gum disease, when it’s still considered gingivitis, an excellent professional cleaning may be all you need. 

female dentist cleaning a patient's mouth

In the early stages of gum disease, a trip to your general dentist may be all that you need to control and prevent additional spread. With a deep cleaning and improved dental hygiene, you can prevent future damage. 

During this visit, your dentist will perform a deep cleaning that will remove any plaque build-up and tartar that may be irritating your gums. They will also check your gums thoroughly to ensure there is no sign of infection or further gum disease progression. 

After this visit, you’ll need to keep up with your regular dental hygiene that includes brushing and flossing your teeth daily. Neglecting your dental hygiene will reactivate the infection and potentially get worse, progressing into the later stages of gum disease. 

Scaling and root planing 

Your treatment plan will likely include scaling and root planing when gum disease has progressed beyond the early gingivitis stage. Scaling and root planing treatments will remove the plaque and tartar on your teeth and prepare the surface of your tooth for the gums to heal. 

This treatment plan may be done over multiple visits to your dentist and requires two main steps: 

  • Scaling: the removal of plaque and tartar down to the bottom of each periodontal pocket.
  • Root planing: the root surfaces of your teeth are then smoothed, or “planed,” to allow your gum tissue to begin to heal and reattach to your teeth.

diagram showing scaling and root planing

Your dentist may recommend scaling and root planing as a treatment plan for your gum disease. This is generally done when the disease has progressed beyond gingivitis and requires additional attention to address the concerns. 

After a scaling and root planing treatment, your dentist may provide you with medication to help control infection, and discomfort and mouth rinse to help keep the area clear post-treatment. 

There are some scenarios where this treatment option isn’t enough on its own. In that case, you may require periodontal surgery as a next step. 

Periodontal surgery 

Periodontal surgery may be required if the scaling and root planing treatment weren’t enough to address the infected area. This is a more complex and invasive treatment plan but can help to remove additional plaque and tartar previously missed. 

diagram of periodontal surgery

Sometimes, your dentist will need to perform periodontal surgery to reach the plaque and tartar causing your discomfort. This is a more invasive treatment plan, but if scaling and root planing didn’t do the trick – this may be your next step in treatment. 

Periodontal surgery allows your dentist to remove plaque and tartar from hard-to-reach areas. It can also help to shrink pocket depth if necessary, making cleaning your teeth easier. Once the surgery is completed, your dentist will stitch the area back into place and ensure it fits tightly to your teeth.

Gum disease prevention

In most cases, gum disease can be prevented with proper dental hygiene. Building three steps into your daily routine will help you keep your oral health top of mind and prevent yourself from entering the stages of gum disease. 

Here are the steps you should be taking to prevent gum disease: 

Brushing your teeth twice a day. Use a soft-bristled toothbrush and fluoride toothpaste to ensure you’re removing all excess plaque and leaving your teeth free from debris. Don’t forget to replace your toothbrush every three months. Once the bristles start to fray, you’re not getting your teeth as clean as possible. 

Flossing your teeth daily. Flossing your teeth every day will help remove plaque and food particles from areas that your brush doesn't reach, such as between your teeth and under your gums. Many people neglect to add flossing or water flossing to their daily routine, but it’s just as important as brushing. 

Rinse your mouth with mouthwash daily. Antibacterial mouthwash is another excellent way to help keep your mouth clean. It will help prevent gingivitis by reducing bacteria in the mouth and fighting bad breath and plaque build-up. 

Making these steps part of your daily routine will allow you to keep your teeth and gums in the best shape possible. Prevention is the best way to avoid having gum disease and tooth loss in the future. 

If you’ve already started to notice signs of gum disease, by sticking to these steps, you can help to reduce the chances of the disease progressing to a later stage. In many cases, gingivitis can be reversed, and with the proper prevention during early-stage periodontitis, you can avoid the disease progressing further. 

In addition to this daily cleaning routine, there are also a few other health and lifestyle changes that can help to decrease the risk of gum disease, including: 

  • Reduce smoking
  • Reduce stress
  • Maintain a balanced diet 
  • Avoid clenching and grinding your teeth

There are many ways you can be working to prevent or address gum disease before it’s too late. If you’re unsure what steps you should be taking, speak with your dentist about your concerns, and they can guide you based on your personal needs. 

Know how to prevent, identify and reverse gum disease this year

When it comes to gum disease, learning how to avoid it and when to get help can make all the difference. Early intervention will allow you to potentially reverse the damage that has occurred and prevent the disease's progression. 

If you notice any changes in your mouth, especially red, swollen, or receding gums, it’s time to give your local dentist a call. They can help you determine if your concern is related to gum disease, diagnose the stage, and provide you with a treatment plan. 

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