Gingivitis sounds complicated, but it just means that your gums are inflamed. However, if it's not taken care of, gingivitis can become a serious issue. It's a chronic condition caused by the long-term effects of plaque -- a sticky material made of bacteria, mucus and food debris -- and tartar (what plaque becomes when it hardens) build up. Most of us have some degree of gingivitis from time to time, but consistent dental care can turn it around.
Plaque can be easily removed with brushing and flossing, but tartar requires a trip to the dentist, where specialized ultra-sonic cleaning equipment will be used to break it off and allow the gums to heal [source: Zaller].