Early stages of mild gum disease, or gingivitis, are invisible. By the time a person can see the effects and has some symptoms, it's likely that the gums have been in some state of decline for a while. Tasting or seeing blood on a toothbrush during or after eating, and just out of the blue, is a big indicator that gums need attention. Other signs and symptoms of gum disease include:
- Sensitive, swollen and red gums
- Bad breath -- or halitosis -- that persists and comes back soon after brushing
- Swollen tissues around the base of gums
- Gaps or loose areas in the gum line where teeth and gums are starting to separate
- Yellowish or white discharge, or pus, between the gums and teeth
- Pain or soreness at the base and roots of teeth when eating, brushing or flossing
- A bad taste in the mouth that comes and goes throughout the day
- Loose teeth or a feeling that your bite or alignment is shifting [source: Mayo Clinic]
Sometimes even these symptoms are absent but you can feel a buildup or ridge of gunk where the teeth and gums meet or there are spots where floss "catches" on the sides of teeth. Those chunks and deposits are hardened plaque, the calculus or tartar that sticks like glue to teeth and irritates gum tissue until it's inflamed. (It's no coincidence that gingivitis and periodontitis end in "-itis," which is a medical word ending for "inflammation.")
Often, when there are no signs of trouble and our teeth look and feel good, it's easy to put off dental appointments. Why have a checkup every six months or so when our mouths look so healthy? A big reason is to stay on top of the tartar buildup before it stays on top of teeth too long and accumulates enough to inflame and irritate the gums.
If you're seeing, feeling or tasting a problem related to gingivitis symptoms, getting to a dentist right away can stop early gum disease in its tracks and prevent it from worsening. And the really good news is that gingivitis is reversible, so gum health can return to pre-disease and pre-symptomatic condition. Periodontitis, though not reversible, is treatable.
Next, we'll look at some causes of gum disease and how to stop it before it starts.