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10 Early Signs of Gum Disease You’re Probably Ignoring

Nearly 65 million Americans have some form of gum disease. Here are the signs you might be one of them.

closeup of woman's gumsStefano Garau/Shutterstock

Silent signs of gum disease

Periodontitis (better known as gum disease) is what happens when gingivitis (better known as inflamed gums) is untreated. That’s why it’s important to recognize the early signs of gum disease. Dentists urge people to look out for the following symptoms.

gum disease inflamed teethTatiana Ayazo/

Red or swollen gums

Inflammation in the form of red, puffy, or tender gums (gingivitis) could be a sign of periodontal disease or gum disease. “Inflammation or discomfort is caused by bacteria that accumulate around the teeth and proliferates when it is not mechanically removed by flossing, brushing, and your six-month dental cleaning appointment,” says Mazen Natour, DMD, a prosthodontist in New York City. It’s important to treat it so it doesn’t advance to periodontitis, a more serious form of gum disease that causes gums to recede from teeth and form pockets that can become infected. (These are surprising ways you might be brushing your teeth wrong.)

bleeding teethTatiana Ayazo/

Blood in the sink

If you spit out blood after brushing and swishing, take note. “Bleeding after tooth brushing is a big sign and can signal gingivitis,” says Lance Vernon, DMD, senior instructor at Case Western Reserve University School of Dental Medicine. Gingivitis is a mild form of gum disease that causes bleeding gums, especially after brushing or eating. Luckily, it’s usually reversed with daily brushing and flossing, as well as regular cleanings by a dentist.

wiggly teethTatiana Ayazo/

Wiggly teeth

Loose teeth that move slightly when lightly pushed against by your tongue or finger is another sign the disease may be progressing, says Dr. Vernon.

gum recession teethTatiana Ayazo/

Gum recession

Smile big and take a look in the mirror: if you notice spaces between teeth that look like little black triangles, that’s a sign that gums are receding, says Dr. Natour.

teeth with plaque buildupTatiana Ayazo/

Plaque buildup

“The combination of routine dental visits [ideally every six months] and daily brushing and flossing can prevent plaque buildup, which contributes to gum disease,” says Dr. Natour. Plaque is the sticky film that forms on teeth—if not adequately removed by regular brushing and flossing, it can turn into tartar, which may harbor bacteria that leads to gum disease.

teeth bone lossTatiana Ayazo/

Bone loss

Untreated gum disease can lead to more serious symptoms such as bone loss, says Dr. Natour. “This early onset inflammation will progress, and if left unchecked and fed by the various sources of sugars from our diet, will evolve into a more aggressive bacteria,” he says.

sensitive teethTatiana Ayazo/

Sensitive teeth

While tooth sensitivity could mean you’re simply brushing too hard, it’s also a symptom of gum disease. “Receding gums expose the root of the tooth to the oral cavity, which will start making teeth more sensitive to hot and cold food or beverages,” says Dr. Natour.

bad breath teethTatiana Ayazo/

Bad breath

If you’ve never had chronic bad breath but notice it suddenly seems to constantly be a little less than fresh, it could be a sign of gum disease. Dr. Vernon says to watch out for a scent similar to alcohol or rotting apples, which is caused by bacteria migrating below the gum tissue, an area difficult for toothbrushes and floss to reach.

teeth grindingTatiana Ayazo/

Teeth grinding

While not technically a symptom of the disease, grinding or clenching your teeth is a risk factor for gum disease. These actions place excessive force on the supporting tissues of the teeth, speeding up the rate at which they’re destroyed.

smoking gum diseaseTatiana Ayazo/


In case you need one more reason to ditch the cigarettes, chew on this: Research has found that smokers have twice the risk of gum disease in comparison to non-smokers. Plus, tobacco products damage teeth and gums, providing an open door for infection-causing bacteria that can cause gum disease. Next, check out what you need to know before your next dental appointment.


Alyssa Jung
Alyssa Jung is a writer and editor with extensive experience creating health and wellness content that resonates with readers and performs well on social platforms. She freelanced for several local publications in Upstate New York and spent three years as a newspaper reporter before moving to New York City to pursue a career in magazines.She spent five years writing, editing, and fact-checking for Reader's Digest and before moving on to Rodale's Prevention magazine, where she is a Senior Associate Editor for print and a contributor to