What Does Gum Disease Look Like?

Are you concerned that you have periodontal disease? Are you wondering what gum disease looks like and if you have it? 

Periodontal disease is a progressive condition and how it looks can depend on the severity and stage of gum disease and if you smoke, however, in general, the first symptoms are red, swollen and puffy gums which may bleed. 

Once periodontitis has taken hold, periodontal pockets develop and the structures holding the teeth in place are destroyed. Next the gums recede, black triangles develop, tooth roots become exposed and the teeth become loose, wobbly and at risk of falling out. 

This article delves into the various stages of gum disease, providing insights into the visual characteristics of each stage, along with guidance on prevention and treatment strategies.

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Periodontal Disease vs Healthy Gums

Here’s a picture of what gum disease and healthy gums look like so you can compare them.

The Signs and Symptoms of Periodontal Disease

Redness and Swelling

One of the earliest signs of gingivitis is redness and swollen gums. Healthy gums should have a pale pink colour (if you naturally have darker skin your gums may also be darker in color) and be firm to the touch. 

The inflammation is caused by bacteria, which accumulates along the gum line in a sticky biofilm called plaque that irritates the gums making them red and inflamed. The body also mounts an immune response against the bacterial invasion bringing blood and immune cells to the area.

Bleeding Gums

Gums that bleed easily, especially during brushing, flossing, or even eating, can be one of the first indications of gingivitis that you take notice of. It often shocks us when we see red when we spit.

Healthy gums should not bleed, so if you notice consistent bleeding, it is essential to pay attention and seek professional dental advice. 

Spontaneous bleeding can be a sign of something more serious and you should always seek the advice of a dentist or a medical doctor.

Bad Breath

As bacteria accumulates along the gum line and in periodontal pockets it can start to smell. The term halitosis is commonly used to describe this odour. Whilst there are many causes, it is frequently associated with gingivitis.  Disrupting bacteria and food debris which gets trapped in the pockets will help you maintain a fresh breath.


Periodontitis is a serious progressive condition, with many different stages that go beyond the early stage of gingivitis. Bacteria and cells of the immune system (which are trying to eliminate the bacteria) cause damage and destruction to the bone and periodontal ligaments (sadly these structures cannot regrow naturally on their own) and they are irreversibly damaged.

Periodontal Pockets

When inflammation persists the gums can start to peel away from the teeth, causing small pockets or spaces to form, between the teeth and gums – these are called referred to as periodontal pockets. 

Dentists can measure the depth of these pockets during a dental examination to assess the severity of gum disease. The bigger the pockets the more advanced the disease is.

It’s hard to clean deep periodontal pockets without a dental professional or a gum pocket brush, which exacerbates the disease further.

Receding Gumline

The bone and other structures under the gumline that hold the teeth in place also give support and structure to the gum tissue. As these supporting structures are destroyed the gum there is less to support the gums and the gums shrink back. 

As the gums recede more of the tooth’s surface is exposed. This can make the teeth appear longer and create gaps between the teeth. If you notice your teeth beginning to get a bit longer or experience increased tooth sensitivity, it could be a sign of gum disease.As the gums recede you also become at risk of developing abfraction lesions, areas in the soft tooth that wear away, causing a hole to develop on the tooth.

Black Triangles

As more bone is lost and the gums recede further, small spaces resembling black triangles can appear between the teeth. 

Abscesses & Pus

In the advanced stages, abscesses may develop. An abscess is a painful infection that forms at the root of the tooth or in the gum tissue. It is often accompanied by pus formation and a throbbing sensation. If you experience any of these symptoms, it is crucial to seek immediate dental attention.

Loose Teeth

As the structures supporting teeth become damaged and destroyed the teeth may become mobile. Affected teeth may feel loose or shift out of their original position. If you notice any changes in the stability of your teeth or changes in your bite, you should seek the advice of a dentist to stop your teeth from falling out.

Tooth Loss

In the very advanced stages, you may have lost a significant number of teeth, with ten pairs or fewer remaining (less than 20 remaining teeth).

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How Can You Tell If You Have Gingivitis Or Periodontitis? 

The symptoms of gingivitis and periodontitis are similar but as the condition progresses the symptoms become more concerning. 

Gingivitis often appears as red, swollen gums that may bleed when brushing or flossing.

Periodontitis, on the other hand, presents with more severe symptoms, including

  • Bad breath
  • Loose, wobbly teeth
  • Teeth which are drifting
  • New or larger spaces between the teeth
  • Pain while chewing
  • Receding gums
  • Tooth loss

What About If You Smoke

Smoking stops the signs and symptoms of gum disease

Those that smoke, may not experience these signs and symptoms. Your gum disease may appear different. This is because smoking masks some of the symptoms such as bleeding and red swollen gums. You may not realise you have gum disease until you have gum recession or even loose wobbly teeth. You can find out more about this in our post on smoking.

What To Do If You Spot the Signs Of Gum Disease

If you notice any of the signs and symptoms mentioned above it’s important to treat them as soon as possible to cure gingivitis or prevent the progression of periodontitis. Early intervention can help preserve your oral health and prevent further complications associated with gum disease.

Prevention & Treatment

The good news is that you can treat, prevent and control the progression of gum disease.

Treating Gum Disease

Treating gum disease typically involves a combination of professional dental care and diligent at-home oral hygiene.

In the early stage, of gingivitis, a thorough dental cleaning by a dentist or dental hygienist can often reverse the condition.

For more advanced cases, treatment may include scaling and root planing to remove bacteria, plaque and tartar from below the gum line by a dentist or periodontist. In severe instances, surgical procedures such as flap surgery or bone grafts may be necessary to repair damaged tissues and promote gum and bone regeneration. 

Left untreated you not only risk your oral health but your general health as well. 

Preventing Gum Disease

The key to prevention and treatment is daily performed self-care, which involves developing and maintaining good oral hygiene which is first class. 

For tip-top oral health, you should brush twice a day for two minutes with a fluoride toothbrush,  clean between the teeth with floss or interdental brushes and clean periodontal pockets with the unique gum pocket brush. 

Regular dental check-ups and avoiding risk factors such as smoking are essential in preventing gum disease.

If you want to act fast and tackle gum disease today our unparalleled course on beating gum disease is your best bet. 

Sharon Fyles image

Written by Sharon Fyles

Periodontitis Expert & Writer

Sharon Fyles, BSc (Hons, SW), MSc, Dip,  is a Manchester-based expert dental writer specialising in periodontal diseases and their treatment.


Medically Reviewed and Verified by Dr. Gareth Edwards BDS (Hons), MFDS (RCPS Glasgow)

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