4 Signs You Have Gum Disease and What to Do About It

If you’re worried you might have gum disease, there’s a good reason for that. About half of U.S. adults have gum disease. It’s one of the most common reasons people see the dentist.

Also called periodontal disease, this condition may have serious consequences for both dental and overall health. It’s a chronic condition that can progress quickly, with older people more at risk. In the worst cases, it leads to infected teeth that need to be removed.

This article looks at four specific signs that suggest you may have gum disease. It offers health information about other conditions that may be related to gum disease, and when you should see a dentist.

Woman brushing teeth
Drazen_ / iStock

Bleeding Gums

Plaque is a sticky film that's constantly forming on your teeth. This plaque contains bacteria that cause inflammation in your gums. If you don't brush well and regularly floss, the bacteria build up below your gums. They can spread and cause bleeding when you brush.

Bleeding gums are often the first sign of gum disease. If the plaque buildup continues to worsen, the bleeding usually gets worse. The reality is that your gums shouldn't bleed when you brush and floss.

Your gums may also swell, turn red, or become sore. Tooth sensitivity may occur as well. This can be due to gum recession, when the gums pull up and away from the teeth.

If you don’t floss, the plaque can cause gingivitis, a gum disease that can progress if not treated. It will destroy the fibers that attach your gum tissue to your teeth.

With gums that bleed, there is more to think about than the pain or discomfort of the bleeding itself. Other health issues can arise if your bleeding is related to gum disease.

Bacteria can enter your bloodstream through your inflamed gums. The harmful bacteria can spread and cause a number of problems, such as blood clots, which can lead to heart attack or stroke. These potentially fatal conditions are not a simple matter of inconvenience or appearance.

Your dentist can do an exam that is designed to find out how severe is bleeding from your gums. There are some general stages of bleeding gums that you can be aware of:

  • Bleeding is seen after or during brushing. This is when you will see red or dark spots on your toothbrush or floss. Your goal here is to disturb plaque, so it shows you’re trying to do the right thing.
  • Gums begin to bleed more frequently. The bleeding isn't just from brushing now. For example, you’ve started to find blood from your gums when you eat.
  • Bleeding happens on its own, not just when brushing. Sometimes, gums will bleed with no obvious cause at all. This is a sign that inflammation is progressing to more serious stages.
  • Gums begin to darken from light pink to a deeper red. This signals that gingivitis is getting worse and eating away at the gum tissue.

Gum Recession or Gum Pocketing

Do your teeth look like they're getting longer? Teeth that seem "long" may mean that the gums that surround them are receding away. Gum recession is a sign that gum disease is progressing.

When gums recede, the gum tissue can pull away from your teeth, forming pockets that can trap even more food and plaque. In later-stage gum disease, these pockets formed in the gums become too deep. It then becomes hard to remove the food and debris by brushing and flossing.

This causes the pockets to become even deeper and the gum disease to get worse. Both are measured in a dental exam.

Many people think gum recession is a normal part of aging. You may have heard the expression "long in the tooth" to describe getting older. This refers to how the gum line tends to recede and expose more of the teeth. But there really is nothing inevitable about gum recession. For most of us, it can be prevented.

Gum Recession

Gum recession is the loss of gum tissue from around the tooth, exposing the root. Measurements are taken along the outer surface of the tooth to gauge how much the gum has recessed over time.

By measuring and keeping track of the changes, a dentist is able to make the right recommendations for taking care of your teeth. It's also helpful to know if a specialist might be needed.

Gum Pockets

Dentists measure gum pockets by “probing” or “charting” to determine the general gum health. A probe is placed down in between the tooth and the gums to find where the gum is attached. This is known as the bottom of the pocket.

Hygienists and dentists take six measurements for every tooth to evaluate their health and any presence of gum disease. A normal or healthy range is between 1 millimeter (mm) and 3 mm. Anything higher indicates infection and gum disease.

Tooth Sensitivity

Gum recession or pocketing can lead to tooth sensitivity. In these cases, sensitivity can be a sign of gum disease. You'll notice it when drinking things like cold or hot beverages.

What it means is that chronically inflamed gum tissue is exposing the root surface of the tooth. This exposed root makes the tooth more susceptible to decay, abfraction (wear in the root surface), tooth sensitivity, and potential tooth loss.

High Blood Sugar

If your blood sugar is high, you may have or be at risk of type 2 diabetes. People with type 2 diabetes have a higher risk of gum disease that progresses faster. That’s why it’s important for your dentist to know if you have type 2 diabetes.

Symptoms of high blood sugar include:

  • Increased thirst
  • Headaches
  • Mind fog or trouble concentrating
  • Blurred or impaired vision
  • Frequent urination
  • Fatigue or loss of energy (weak, tired feeling)
  • Unexplained weight loss

If you experience any of these symptoms, you should see your healthcare provider. However, if you see your dentist and are diagnosed with gum disease, you should also test your blood sugar. Both conditions are closely linked to general inflammation in the body.

Steps to Control Your Gum Disease

The first step in taking control of gum disease is to visit your dentist. You'll need a dental exam and cleaning. In order for gum disease to settle, you will need to brush and floss thoroughly and regularly. Once your oral hygiene is in order, you can see if you think your gum disease symptoms are improving or not.

Try to tie flossing and brushing to meal times or a consistent time that is convenient for your schedule. Floss, then brush your teeth and tongue:

  • When you first wake up
  • When you first come home from school or work (don’t come out of the bathroom until you do)
  • Before bed

The point of flossing and brushing is to disturb the plaque and bacteria. It prevents it from sitting too long on your teeth. If you do this, tartar (untreated and hardened plaque) will be less likely to attach to your teeth. If you skip on your oral hygiene routine, the plaque and bacteria have a chance to grow until the next time.

Using a water flosser is an option to improve your dental hygiene.


Gum disease is quite common but it doesn't get better without improved oral hygiene habits and professional dental care. Usually, people with gum disease will see their gums begin to bleed when they brush and floss their teeth. If the problem continues, it leads to more inflammation and gums begin to recede. Pocket spaces form between the gum and the tooth, which may become sensitive.

Ultimately, gum disease can lead to tooth loss. That may not be the most serious issue, though. Gum disease is closely linked with type 2 diabetes and may also increase the risk of heart attack and stroke..

A Word From Verywell

Gum disease can be a sign of the general health of your body but it begins with your mouth. Take steps now to brush and floss adequately. If you think you may have gum disease, make a dentist appointment as soon as possible to find out.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What are the stages of periodontal disease?

    There are four stages of periodontal disease:

    • Gingivitis: A gum infection is present but has not spread to the bone.
    • Early periodontal disease: The infection has spread to the bone.
    • Moderate periodontal disease: The infection is deeper and can cause bone loss and shifting of teeth.
    • Advanced periodontal disease: Surgery or laser therapy are required to treat deep pockets of infection.
  • Can periodontitis be reversed?

    The only stage of periodontal disease that can be reversed is gingivitis. The other three stages can be treated to slow advancing disease but not reverse it. This is why it's important to practice prevention.

  • How is gum disease treated?

    Gum disease is treated by removing plaque at regular dental visits, taking prescription medication to kill the bacteria causing the disease, and sometimes surgery to stop the disease or replace bone lost from advanced stages.

5 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Periodontal Disease. Reviewed July 10, 2013.

  2. Dhadse P, Gattani D, Mishra R. The link between periodontal disease and cardiovascular disease: How far we have come in last two decades? J Indian Soc Periodontol. 2010;14(3):148-154. doi:10.4103/0972-124X.75908

  3. National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research. Periodontal (gum) disease. 2018.

  4. Preshaw PM, Alba AL, Herrera D, et al. Periodontitis and diabetes: a two-way relationship. Diabetologia. 2012;55(1):21-31. doi:10.1007/s00125-011-2342-y

  5. Pasadena Periodontics. The different stages of periodontal disease.

By Steven Lin, DDS
Steven Lin, DDS, is a dentist, TEDx speaker, health educator, and author.