How does a dentist treat gum infection?

Gum infections, also known as periodontal disease or gingivitis, are common dental issues that affect many people. If left untreated, gum infections can lead to receding gums, tooth loss, and other oral health problems. Fortunately, dentists have effective treatments to help patients heal from gum infections and restore their oral health.

What causes gum infections?

Gum infections occur when bacteria build up around the teeth and gums. This bacteria causes inflammation and can damage the tissues and bone that support the teeth. There are several factors that can increase the risk of developing gum infections:

  • Poor oral hygiene – Not brushing and flossing regularly allows plaque (a sticky film of bacteria) to build up on teeth.
  • Smoking – Chemicals in tobacco smoke irritate gums.
  • Genetics – Some people are more genetically prone to gum disease.
  • Stress – High stress levels raise cortisol which reduces the body’s ability to fight inflammation.
  • Hormonal changes – Fluctuating hormones during puberty, menstruation, and menopause can make gums more sensitive.
  • Medications – Some drugs like oral contraceptives, anti-depressants, and heart medicines increase gum infection risks.
  • Underlying health issues – Conditions like diabetes and HIV/AIDS impair the body’s ability to heal gums.

Types of gum infections

There are various types of gum infections ranging from mild to severe:


This is the earliest and mildest form of gum disease. Symptoms include red, swollen gums that bleed easily when brushing and flossing. Gingivitis is reversible with professional treatment and good oral hygiene.


As gingivitis worsens, it advances to periodontitis. There is more inflammation, deepening of gum pockets around teeth, and damage to the bone and ligaments that support the teeth. Periodontitis can lead to tooth loss if untreated.

Acute necrotizing ulcerative gingivitis (ANUG)

This painful infection causes ulcers, bleeding, and grayish dead tissue around gums. It is often associated with periods of high stress and fatigue.


When wisdom teeth become partially impacted, bacteria can become trapped under the gum flap covering the emerging tooth. This leads to a localized gum infection called pericoronitis which causes throbbing pain and swollen gums around the site.

Common symptoms of gum infections

The signs and symptoms of gum infections include:

  • Red, swollen, tender gums
  • Gums that bleed easily when brushing or flossing
  • Gums that have pulled away from the teeth
  • Persistent bad breath
  • Pus discharge around teeth and gums
  • Loose or separating teeth
  • Changes in bite alignment
  • Receding gums
  • New spaces developing between teeth
  • Pain or tenderness when chewing

Professional diagnosis

While you may notice some gum infection symptoms yourself, getting an accurate diagnosis requires a professional examination by a dentist. They will check for signs of gum disease and examine your mouth thoroughly. This may involve:

  • Visual inspection – Checking for redness, swelling, recession, and abscesses.
  • Probing depths – Using a periodontal probe to measure space between gums and teeth.
  • X-rays – Dental x-rays reveal bone loss and damage not visible during a visual exam.
  • Risk assessment – The dentist considers risk factors like smoking and underlying disease.

These assessments allow the dentist to gauge infection severity, decide on the appropriate treatment, and monitor your healing progress at follow-up visits.

Treating mild gum infections

For mild cases of gingivitis, the dentist will start by addressing bacteria on the teeth and gums. A professional dental cleaning can remove plaque buildup and tartar above and below the gum line. You’ll also be advised about improving your oral hygiene routine with proper brushing and flossing techniques.

An antimicrobial mouthwash may be prescribed to reduce bacteria and control infection. Common antiseptic ingredients like cetylpyridinium chloride, chlorhexidine, and essential oils can treat gingivitis.

If underlying health issues or medications are contributing to gum infection risks, your dentist may consult with your physician about alternative treatments.

Treatments at home

In addition to professional care, you can support gum healing at home with:

  • Brushing thoroughly twice daily – Brush teeth in a circular motion at a 45-degree angle to clean along the gum line.
  • Flossing once daily – Floss gently between teeth to remove plaque.
  • Using medicated or antibacterial toothpaste – Look for ingredients like stannous fluoride and triclosan to reduce bacteria.
  • Rinsing with antiseptic mouthwash daily – Choose a mouthwash containing cetylpyridinium chloride, chlorhexidine, or essential oils.
  • Quitting tobacco – Ask your dentist about tobacco cessation programs and nicotine gum or patches.
  • Stress management – Try relaxation techniques like yoga and meditation to lower stress.
  • Healthy eating – Limit sugary foods, eat crunchy fruits and vegetables, and take a daily probiotic.

With diligent oral care and limiting risk factors, mild gum infections often resolve within a few weeks.

Treating moderate to severe gum infections

Cases of periodontitis and ANUG require more intensive treatment to halt infection progression and prevent tooth loss. Along with a professional dental cleaning, the dentist may prescribe antibiotic medication to eliminate harmful bacteria from infected gum tissues. Common antibiotics used for oral infections include doxycycline, metronidazole, and amoxicillin.

For moderate infections, prescription antimicrobial mouth rinses are used in conjunction with antibiotics. Chlorhexidine and cetylpyridinium chloride rinses have strong antibacterial properties to control infection.

Scaling and root planing

After reducing bacteria levels with antibiotics and antiseptics, the dentist will perform scaling and root planing. This is a deep clean under the gums to scrape away tartar, smoothen damaged root surfaces, and completely remove plaque and bacteria.

The dentist uses specialized dental instruments for scaling and root planing. Ultrasonic scalers use high-frequency vibrations to loosen tartar. Hand scalers are metal instruments with hooked or knifed ends that scrape the tooth roots. Lasers can also selectively eliminate bacteria.

The initial scaling and root planing treatment takes several hours in the dentist’s office depending on infection severity. It may take multiple visits to fully clean all areas of the mouth. A local anesthetic is often used to numb the gums for comfort during the procedure. Mild to moderate gum infections heal well after scaling and root planing.

Advanced periodontal treatments

In cases of extensive damage from severe gum infections, more procedures may be necessary after the initial deep cleaning:

  • Gum surgery – A periodontist can perform gum flap surgery to clean roots and remove damaged gum tissues or periodontal pockets.
  • Bone grafts – This reconstructive grafting restores lost bone around teeth.
  • Soft tissue grafts – This involves taking a small piece of gum tissue from the roof of the mouth and attaching it where gums have receded.
  • Growth factors – Applying enamel matrix derivative proteins or platelet-rich plasma helps regrow periodontal tissues.

Though gum infections cause major damage, even severe periodontitis can be treated with modern dental procedures. The key is to catch gum disease early for the most effective treatment.

Ongoing treatment and maintenance

Successfully treating gum infections requires regular dental visits and meticulous home care after the initial therapy. Recommendations for ongoing periodontal management include:

  • Follow-up exams every 3-6 months to monitor healing and quickly address any recurrent infections.
  • Consistent daily oral hygiene of brushing, flossing, and antiseptic mouth rinses.
  • Periodic teeth cleanings every 3-4 months based on individual disease severity.
  • Antibiotic therapy if lingering pockets of infection persist.
  • Gum surgery, bone grafts, or soft tissue grafts to treat any remaining or recurring periodontal damage.
  • Ongoing smoking cessation programs if needed to eliminate tobacco risks.

With regular professional dental care and excellent daily oral hygiene, gum infections can be fully treated and controlled.

Prognosis and outlook

The prognosis for gum infections ranges from excellent to fair depending on multiple factors:

Mild gingivitis prognosis

When gingivitis is caught early, the prognosis is very good. With professional treatment and improved oral hygiene, symptoms can resolve within weeks.

Periodontitis prognosis

Moderate periodontitis has a good prognosis with deep cleanings and antimicrobial therapy. However, severe periodontitis may continue to recur and require advanced procedures.

Poor prognostic factors

  • Smoking and tobacco use
  • Poor patient compliance with oral hygiene and dental visits
  • High levels of plaque bacteria
  • Diabetes or other systemic health conditions
  • Prior history of periodontitis treatment failure
  • Deep periodontal pockets and extensive bone loss on x-rays

Good prognostic factors

  • Non-smoker
  • Minimal plaque levels
  • No other major health issues
  • Mild to moderate periodontal pockets and bone loss
  • Closely following post-treatment oral hygiene instructions

When to see your dentist

Schedule an appointment with your dentist right away if you notice any symptoms of a possible gum infection including:

  • Bleeding, swollen, or tender gums
  • Red, inflamed gums
  • Persistent halitosis
  • Gums that have separated from the teeth
  • Changes in bite alignment
  • Increased tooth sensitivity
  • Pus discharge around gums

Seeking prompt professional treatment is key to resolving gum infections before they can worsen or cause tooth loss. Even if symptoms improve initially with good oral hygiene, only a dentist can diagnose the underlying issue and monitor your periodontal health.


Preventing gum infections involves decreasing bacterial plaque buildup and maintaining periodontal health:

  • Brush and floss thoroughly twice a day
  • Get regular dental cleanings and checkups every 6 months
  • Use mouthwash to reduce oral bacteria – especially one with antibacterial ingredients
  • Avoid tobacco products
  • Eat a balanced, nutritious diet
  • Manage health conditions like diabetes that increase gum infection risks
  • Use a soft-bristled toothbrush and avoid aggressive brushing

Catching and treating gum infections early is also key to preventing them from worsening into advanced periodontitis and causing permanent tooth damage.


Gum infections affect many people but can be successfully treated by dentists. The keys are getting a professional diagnosis, following all treatment recommendations, maintaining excellent oral hygiene, seeing the dentist regularly, and modifying individual risk factors. With diligent long-term care, even severe gum disease can often be managed for a healthy mouth and smile.

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