How to Get Rid of Gingivitis: Ditch the Mouthwash [Plus 3 More Steps]

Originally published on
Updated on


Hi, I’m Dr. B, practicing functional dentist for 35 years. I graduated from the Dugoni School of Dentistry in San Francisco, CA in 1987 and am a member of the American Academy of Dental Sleep Medicine (AADSM), Academy of General Dentistry (Chicago, IL), American Academy for Oral Systemic Health (AAOSH), and Dental Board of California. I'm on a mission to empower people everywhere with the same evidence-based, easy-to-understand dental health advice that my patients get. Learn more about Dr. B

Gingivitis isn’t just an annoying case of inflamed gums. It’s the start of serious gum disease, which is why you need to know how to get rid of gingivitis.

You see, as gum disease (periodontitis) progresses, it’s connected to nearly every major disease. It’s a big deal.

And you know what to do when you have gingivitis, right? Just swish some mouthwash, knock out all your bacteria, and it’ll go away…


Unfortunately, many conventional ideas about treating gingivitis are based on outdated science.

Mouthwash is one of the worst things to do for bleeding, infected gums. It’s not a gingivitis cure! For one, it disrupts the oral microbiome, which needs bacteria in order to prevent gingivitis.

Bleeding gums from gingivitis are the first symptom of gum disease, and progressive gum disease is bad for not just your mouth, but several parts of your body. Gingivitis shouldn’t be ignored—and I want you to know exactly how science says it should be treated.

Don’t worry if you’ve gotten bad advice in the past. I’ll break it all down for you to help prepare you for what to do if you notice signs of gingivitis.

Here, we’ll discuss how to know if you have gingivitis, how to treat it (at home and with your dentist), and how to prevent it from getting worse.

Ask the Dentist is supported by readers. If you use one of the links below and buy something, Ask the Dentist makes a little bit of money at no additional cost to you. I rigorously research, test, and use thousands of products every year, but recommend only a small fraction of these. I only promote products that I truly feel will be valuable to you in improving your oral health.

Gingivitis symptoms

Gingivitis is typically characterized as bleeding gums, in combination with any of the below:

  • Swollen, inflamed gums
  • Red or purple gums
  • Tender or painful gums
  • Receding gums
  • Bad breath
  • Itchy gums

Healthy gums are pale, pink, strong, and are snugly wrapped around your teeth.

So your gums are bleeding, what’s the big deal? I hear this a lot from both readers and patients.

I ask them, what if you washed your hands and your skin started to bleed? What if you brushed your hair and your scalp started to bleed?

Those would be major signs that something isn’t right. And your gums are no different.

While a tiny bit of blood shouldn’t land you at an emergency dental visit, there’s no reason to be okay with any blood in your mouth. Ever.

As an aside: many people think that black gums are a sign of gingivitis. Although black gums or black spots on gums can signal some serious things, they aren’t gum disease symptoms.

What is gingivitis?

Gingivitis is the inflammation of the gingiva or gums. Essentially, it’s a gum infection.

It’s the result of the body responding to harmful bacterial overgrowth in the sulcus and can lead to to a more severe condition if left untreated. Gingivitis causes lesions on the gums and can eventually progress to further stages of periodontitis (gum disease).

Our mouths are brimming with bacteria at all times. Even a healthy mouth is packed with millions of bacteria.

The sulcus—that’s the little gap between gum and tooth—is an ecosystem of bacteria. When this ecosystem is in equilibrium, where your gums, teeth, and mouth function in a healthy state.

But when there’s an increase in a harmful bacteria, they build up on your teeth in a film called biofilm or plaque.

While some plaque in your sulcus (that gap between gum and tooth) is actually beneficial, too much of it causes gum swelling and redness.

When plaque remains on the teeth too long, it hardens and becomes tartar. This can happen above or below the gumline. When it happens below the gumline, that’s when it’s more serious, because it triggers inflammation.

Inflammation is how your body responds to these harmful bacteria. If this inflammation is chronic, it can lead to loss of gum tissue and eventually loss of bone structure around the teeth—and even eventually loss of the tooth itself. This is likely if the bacteria are attached to the tooth like a barnacle (calculus).

What gingivitis is not: Gingivitis does not necessarily mean you already have gum recession or bone loss. The major difference between these two is that there is no bone loss with gingivitis.

Gingivitis is the first stage of periodontitis and you can get rid of gingivitis with proper diet and dental care. Bone loss is typically permanent and cannot be reversed. It’s the bone that keeps your teeth securely in the jaw.

What causes gingivitis?

You get gingivitis when tartar (hardened bacterial deposits) builds up under your gum line, triggering inflammation.

Gingivitis is typically the result of one of the following:

  1. Poor brushing or flossing techniques: An overall increase in harmful bacteria can result from poor dental hygiene or a weak immune system. For example, you should be flossing daily (or at least several times a week) to get rid of bacteria buildup from food that you can’t brush away.
  2. A weak immune system: This can happen during pregnancy or as a result of a condition such as Sjogren’s, or a whole host of other autoimmune conditions that make the body less able to fight.
  3. Antibacterial mouthwash: Believe it or not, mouthwash is the last thing that’s good for gingivitis. You have to learn how to get rid of gingivitis when a bacterial imbalance where harmful bacteria overtake the beneficial bacteria happens. This can occur either by bad bacteria outnumbering or outcompeting the healthy microbes. When you use a mouthwash capable of “killing 99% of all germs,” you’re killing off the delicate balance of bacteria in your mouth that you need to keep inflammation at bay.
  4. Poor diet: Additionally, when someone eats a lot of sugar (harmful bacteria thrive on sugar) or has a diet lacking in proper nutrients, harmful bacteria feast and block the beneficial bacteria.

Gingivitis risk factors

While gingivitis can develop in anyone, there are some factors that can increase your risk for developing gingivitis. Important gingivitis risk factors include:

  • Poor dental hygiene
  • Tobacco use—smoking or chewing
  • Mouth breathing
  • Dry mouth—naturally occurring in the elderly or due to medications
  • Sleep disordered breathing—An estimated 40-50% of the population has some form of this, which includes sleep apnea, upper airway resistance syndrome (UARS), and more.
  • Aging
  • Aggressive brushing or flossing
  • Osteoporosis
  • Genetics
  • Poorly done dental work that is difficult to clean
  • Wisdom teeth
  • Poor nutrition—due to poor diet or poor absorption caused by gut issues
  • Autoimmune disorders
  • Other conditions that impair the immune system such as HIV, chemotherapy, bacterial or viral infections—especially herpes and Epstein-Barr virus
  • Hormonal disruptions—such as pregnancy, birth control use, or endocrine disorders
  • Prescription drugs including antihistamines, calcium channel blockers, phenytoin (a seizure medication), any immunosuppressant such as cyclosporine, and blood pressure medication

Untreated Gingivitis Increases Your Risk of These Diseases

Once gingivitis progresses into stages II, III, and IV periodontitis, your risks for other diseases can increase significantly. Some of these include:

How do I get rid of gingivitis?

Now for the good news:

Gingivitis is reversible and very treatable—often by yourself at home (although I always recommend you see your dentist).

By definition, gingivitis is a stage of gum disease that’s still reversible. That being said, the earlier you catch gingivitis, the easier it is to treat.

Here are four easy steps to follow for how to treat gingivitis.

Step 1: Book an appointment with your dentist to get a baseline.

To reverse gingivitis, I recommend you book an appointment with your dentist in the next six months when you first see blood while brushing or flossing. Essentially, make sure that you have a cleaning scheduled in no more than six months from your last appointment.

Your dentist can help you locate the source of the bleeding and your hygienist will do a root planing to clear out tartar buildup beneath the gums.

This step is essential. Don’t ignore the first symptoms of gingivitis, because they’re quite literally they’re the first signs of gum disease.

Until you see your dentist, you can’t know for sure the extent of your gum problems and what might be needed to treat them.

If it’s been more than a year since your last dental visit, book an appointment right away. Since timing is key for how to get rid of gingivitis, you don’t want to wait too long to find out what’s going on.

Step 2: Brush up on your flossing and brushing technique, and boost the frequency.

Second, I recommend you start out at home to address the root cause of the bacterial imbalance. For most people, this is going to mean making some tweaks to your diet as well as brushing up on your flossing and brushing technique.

To stop gingivitis, you must address the root cause, which is a buildup of the “bad” bacteria.

Watch my videos on how to brush and how to floss with proper technique, and bump up your frequency as much as possible.

Ideally, I recommend brushing and flossing every morning, every night, and 30-45 minutes after each meal when getting rid of gingivitis.

Step 3: Rethink your diet.

Here’s where to focus your attention to improve your diet and your oral health. Think Paleo!

  • Increase prebiotics and probiotics by eating more kimchi, sauerkraut, kefir, and unsweetened Greek yogurt.
  • Boost inflammation fighting antioxidants by eating more berries and dark leafy greens leeks.
  • Increase anti-inflammatory omega-3s by eating more salmon, grass-fed beef, and butter.
  • Add more delicious and inflammation fighting spice to your meals. These include turmeric, ginger, and garlic.

Foods to avoid are anything inflammatory or high in starches. That means stay away from processed sugars, breads, pastas, crackers, and the like as much as you can while your gums heal.

Step 4: Stop using bacteria-busting mouthwash to get rid of your gingivitis.

The most common gingivitis misconception is this: Preventing gingivitis means killing all your mouth’s bacteria with a strong mouthwash, but here’s the problem with that…

If you blast this delicate little ecosystem with antibacterial chemicals, you disrupt everything. You kill the bad bacteria, but you also kill the good bacteria.

And oral bacteria aren’t just important for preventing gingivitis—they’re also linked to mental health, weight, and even to dementia and Alzheimer’s.

So, stay away from anything claiming to be a medicinal or gingivitis mouthwash. Your oral microbiome will thank you for this.

When to see your dentist for gingivitis treatment

Like I mentioned before, you should be seeing your dentist every six months for cleanings. As long as your next appointment is in that same schedule, you can wait until the next cleaning if you notice a little blood on your brush.

However, if you fit any of these conditions, schedule a visit with your dentist in the next two weeks:

  1. You’re in pain
  2. Your gums bleed regularly (most days)
  3. You have extremely bad breath
  4. You’ve tried getting rid of gingivitis at home without success
  5. You haven’t seen a dentist in over a year and you have gingivitis symptoms

Your hygienist can help you through some of the worst of gingivitis with a thorough cleaning, called a root planing.

After that, fighting gingivitis is mostly up to you through a nutritious diet and good dental hygiene.

For most people, gingivitis will clear up in two to three weeks after implementing a good routine. As with most health conditions, the earlier you catch it, the easier it will be to treat. Gum disease treatment becomes more invasive, painful, and limited the further it progresses.

If you have any conditions that make your risk of developing gingivitis higher, try to be more vigilant in checking your gums for signs of gingivitis. Most of the tips listed in this article can and should also be used as preventative measures.

Can gingivitis go away on its own?

Yes! Everyone should begin their gingivitis treatment at home.

Before you dive into home remedies, review the Gingivitis Essentials Checklist below. If you aren’t doing all of these, you should start with the essentials first.


Gingivitis Prevention Checklist

  • Do you brush your teeth twice a day? If you’re a once-a-day person, gingivitis is a big red flag that it’s time to brush more often. Aim for twice a day, plus 30-45 minutes after every meal.
  • Are you using an electric toothbrush? A sonic brush like the Boka brush is best for plaque buildup, especially for people over 40.
  • Do you use a toothbrush with extra soft bristles? Even medium soft bristles can be too brutal on sensitive gums.
  • Do you replace your toothbrush regularly? When you wait more than a couple of months to swap out brushes or toothbrush heads, the bristles of your toothbrush get sharp and can scratch and irritate your gums.
  • Do you floss every day? Flossing removes food particles that grow into plaque and tartar, often in places your brush can’t sufficiently clean.
  • Do you get your teeth cleaned at least once a year? Once plaque has turned into tartar/calculus, you can’t brush or floss it away. Only your hygienist can get rid of it with a thorough cleaning. These appointments also allow your dentist to watch for any signs of gingivitis before it turns into the later stages of periodontal disease.
  • Do you limit sugar intake? This anti-nutrient is the biggest culprit for the overgrowth of gingivitis-causing bacteria. (Plus, when you get rid of sugar, you may even be able to improve some tooth sensitivity.)
  • Do you use harsh mouthwashes? Killing all your oral bacteria isn’t good for getting rid of gingivitis because you rob your oral microbiome of the good bacteria it needs to fight infection.
  • Do you use tobacco products? The toxins in chew and cigarettes are bad for immunity, both in the mouth and the entire body. They also interfere with the incredibly tiny, fragile blood vessels in your gums and cause early gum recession.
  • Do you take any medications known for causing gingivitis? Don’t stop taking your medications without the supervision of a doctor. However, if you’re struggling with gingivitis and have the option to switch to a different medication, it may be one answer to how to get rid of gingivitis.
  • Do you mouth breathe? A lot of people don’t even realize they breathe through their mouths at night, but this can cause serious dry mouth and encourage bacterial overgrowth.

8 gingivitis remedies to try at home

1. Breathe through your nose

This one might surprise you, but breathing through your nose is important to maintaining the right pH for beneficial bacteria in your mouth. If you breathe through your mouth, it will cause the tissues to dry out and even healthy gums to bleed.

Check your anterior gums (front of the mouth) in comparison to your posterior gums (by your molars). If you notice only the gums in the front of your mouth are swollen, it could be caused by mouth breathing.

For daytime mouth breathing, be intentional about noticing when you might mouth breathe, so that you can develop a nose-breathing habit instead.

Try mouth tape for mouth breathing during sleep. I use Somnifix’s Sleep Strips every night because they leave no residue and have a convenient breathing vent. (Use code DOCTORB for a buy one, get one 50% off deal on your first order!)

2. Take oral probiotics and prebiotics

If you really want to beat gingivitis, you must boost the beneficial bacteria in your mouth. Taking oral prebiotics and probiotics will help your oral and gut microbiome health and boost your immune system.

Probiotics will also help you with bad breath. Instead of damaging your microbiome with harsh mouthwash, try probiotic lozenges.

These chewables taste great and contribute to the good bacteria that can help fight gingivitis.

3. Make your own toothpaste

My Chocolate Lover’s DIY Probiotic Toothpaste recipe was designed specially to support the beneficial bacteria of your oral microbiome.

It’s packed with prebiotics, probiotics, and nourishes the most helpful mouth bacteria. This toothpaste also promotes remineralization and a healthy pH. Plus, it’s delicious!

4. Coconut oil pulling

Coconut oil pulling can improve bacterial balance in the mouth without killing off all the good stuff. I recommend this for people trying to stay away from gum disease as well as those working to heal cavities.

5. Scrape your tongue

Tongue scraping is the unsung hero of dental health. You should be scraping your tongue every time you brush to remove bacteria. Tongue scraping reduces gingivitis, prevent cavities, makes food taste better, boosts your immune system, and rids you of bad breath.

Some studies estimate between 80 to 90 percent of bad breath comes from buildup of food, bacteria, fungi, and dead cells on the back of the tongue. Yuck!

6. Turmeric gel

Many dental home remedies include items that are natural, yet still antibacterial, such as essential oils. Though these natural options are a little better than many conventional products, using anything that is a strong antibacterial runs the risk of wrecking your oral microbiome.

Turmeric is one of the few exceptions to this natural antimicrobial rule. Though it is antimicrobial, it is also powerfully anti-inflammatory, making it a good option for problematic gingivitis.

Research has found turmeric gel (also called oral curcuma gel) to be effective against gingivitis mostly for its anti-inflammatory properties.

7. Sea salt water rinse

Salt water is great for gingivitis inflamed gums. Rinse with sea salt in warm water two to three times per day. This is the brand I like.

Rinsing with sea salt helps remove food build up, eases inflammation and pain, reduces harmful bacteria, and improves bad breath.

8. Baking soda rinse

Baking soda reduces plaque buildup, improves bleeding gums, and inflammation. Baking soda also works through neutralizing an acidic pH in the mouth. Generally, harmful bacterial prefer an acidic mouth.

I usually only recommend a baking soda rinse if your gingivitis has become problematic. Don’t use this as a preventative option.

Do not use hydrogen peroxide. It’s harmful to the oral microbiome and to the delicate tissues in the mouth!

Common Gingivitis Questions


Is gingivitis contagious?

A: Many patients often ask me, “Is gingivitis contagious?” or “Can you get gum disease from kissing?

The answer is—Yes.

Studies have found it’s possible to transmit gingivitis and periodontitis bacteria from person to person. This transmission can occur from parent to child through sharing utensils or between romantic partners.

A kiss can exchange up to 80 million bacteria. But before you stop kissing your partner, there’s good news: a healthy immune system can fight off gingivitis causing bacteria. In a healthy person, sharing someone’s biome can add to your biome’s diversity.

Through a healthy diet packed with proper nutrients, good dental habits, and regular checkups, you can help your immune system maintain the proper balance of bacteria in your oral microbiome.


Which bacteria are responsible for gingivitis?

A: You’ve heard a lot about these ‘harmful’ bacteria, but which ones are they exactly? Here are some of the main culprits:

These are some of the harmful bacteria which need to be limited, but not completely removed, in your oral microbiome. Their existence is vital to the ecosystem of the oral microbiome in its entirety.

It’s the ratio of these bad bugs to the good bugs that makes the difference. External factors such as diet have an effect on the ratio. Using strong, caustic mouthwashes may make your breath smell minty for 10 minutes, but immediately alters this ratio.


Is gingivitis an autoimmune disease?

A: Autoimmune disease occurs when your immune system attacks healthy tissue—in the case of gingivitis, your gums.

Studies suggest that gingivitis may, in some cases, be classified as an autoimmune disease.

Research has found that gingivitis causes a person’s immune system to produce inflammatory cytokines. This causes inflammation in the gums and the rest of the body.

While you want some cytokines because they help fight infection, too many cytokines contribute to chronic inflammation.

In particular, your mouth is impacted by cytokines interleukin-1beta, interleukin-18, and tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-alpha). These bad boys run rampant in a mouth with gingivitis and cause damaging inflammation. Also, your white blood cells produce matrix metalloproteinases (MMPs) enzymes, which destroy connective tissue.

Inflammation and autoimmune disease go hand-in-hand. It’s still not clear which comes first, inflammation or autoimmunity.

One thing is for sure, though: The best way to fight gingivitis, inflammation, and autoimmune disease is with your diet.


What happens if I don’t get rid of my gingivitis?

A: As I said earlier, gingivitis is actually the first stage of periodontitis, otherwise known as gum disease.

When you progress to the later stages of gum disease, you’ll likely experience a lot of gum recession, pain, and inconvenience. Periodontal disease treatments are limited and will never restore the healthy gums you had before.

One example of this is advanced periodontal disease. Many patients have gum recession so severe that their alveolar bone (which holds your teeth) is actually exposed. In these cases, even the tiniest bit of bad bacteria in the mouth can lead to cavities and other issues.

In underdeveloped countries or places with exceptionally bad nutrition, some younger people can develop a form of gum disease referred to as trench mouth. Named for its historical roots during World War I, trench mouth isn’t common in first world countries except for people with HIV/AIDS, smokers, or people with otherwise compromised immune systems.

Key takeaways: How to get rid of gingivitis

Remember that diet is as important (if not more so) as oral hygiene when it comes to gingivitis! Eat well to nourish your oral microbiome.

If you have signs of gingivitis, here are some things you can try:

  • Go through my Gingivitis Prevention Checklist to see if there are simple changes you can make to get rid of gingivitis on your own
  • Follow my 4-step process to heal gingivitis:
    1. Book an appointment with your dentist
    2. Brush and floss more frequently
    3. Change your diet to get rid of inflammation-causing foods
    4. Stop using mouthwashes that kill all your oral bacteria
  • Try some proven gingivitis home remedies
    1. Breathe through your nose
    2. Take oral probiotics and prebiotics
    3. Make your own toothpaste
    4. Coconut oil pulling
    5. Scrape your tongue
    6. Turmeric gel
    7. Sea salt water rinse
    8. Baking soda rinse

I want to leave you with this, beyond anything else:

Never ignore bleeding gums or other gingivitis symptoms. If you want to know how to get rid of gingivitis, it starts with recognizing your bleeding gums are a problem.

Got more questions? Ask me a question and I’ll respond personally.

Read Next: What are Receding Gums? How to Prevent and Treat Gum Recession

15 References

  1. Wade, W. G. (2013). The oral microbiome in health and disease. Pharmacological research, 69(1), 137-143. Abstract:
  2. Taylor, G. W., Manz, M. C., & Borgnakke, W. S. (2004). Diabetes, periodontal diseases, dental caries, and tooth loss: a review of the literature. Compendium of continuing education in dentistry (Jamesburg, NJ: 1995)25(3), 179-84. Abstract:
  3. Humphrey, L. L., Fu, R., Buckley, D. I., Freeman, M., & Helfand, M. (2008). Periodontal disease and coronary heart disease incidence: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Journal of general internal medicine23(12), 2079. Full text:
  4. Dominy, S. S., Lynch, C., Ermini, F., Benedyk, M., Marczyk, A., Konradi, A., … & Holsinger, L. J. (2019). Porphyromonas gingivalis in Alzheimer’s disease brains: Evidence for disease causation and treatment with small-molecule inhibitors. Science advances5(1), eaau3333. Full text:
  5. Olsen, I., Taubman, M. A., & Singhrao, S. K. (2016). Porphyromonas gingivalis suppresses adaptive immunity in periodontitis, atherosclerosis, and Alzheimer’s disease. Journal of oral microbiology, 8(1), 33029. Full text:
  6. Li, X., Kolltveit, K. M., Tronstad, L., & Olsen, I. (2000). Systemic diseases caused by oral infection. Clinical microbiology reviews13(4), 547-558. Full text:
  7. Farjana, H. N., Chandrasekaran, S. C., & Gita, B. (2014). Effect of oral curcuma gel in gingivitis management-a pilot study. Journal of clinical and diagnostic research: JCDR, 8(12), ZC08. Full text:
  8. Lee, Y., Tchaou, W. S. S., Welch, K. B., & Loesche, W. J. (2006). The transmission of BANA-positive periodontal bacterial species from caregivers to children. The Journal of the American Dental Association, 137(11), 1539-1546. Abstract:
  9. Zambon, J. J. (1985). Actinobacillus actinomycetemcomitans in human periodontal disease. Journal of clinical periodontology, 12(1), 1-20. Abstract:
  10. Suzuki, N., Yoneda, M., & Hirofuji, T. (2013). Mixed red-complex bacterial infection in periodontitis. International journal of dentistry, 2013. Full text:
  11. Van Winkelhoff, A. J., Loos, B. G., Van Der Reijden, W. A., & Van Der Velden, U. (2002). Porphyromonas gingivalis, Bacteroides forsythus and other putative periodontal pathogens in subjects with and without periodontal destruction. Journal of clinical periodontology, 29(11), 1023-1028. Abstract:
  12. Nair, S., Faizuddin, M., & Dharmapalan, J. (2014). Role of autoimmune responses in periodontal disease. Autoimmune Diseases, 2014. Full text:
  13. Orozco, A., Gemmell, E., Bickel, M., & Seymour, G. J. (2006). Interleukin‐1 β, interleukin‐12 and interleukin‐18 levels in gingival fluid and serum of patients with gingivitis and periodontitis. Oral microbiology and immunology, 21(4), 256-260. Abstract:
  14. Rossomando, E. F., Kennedy, J. E., & Hadjimichael, J. (1990). Tumour necrosis factor alpha in gingival crevicular fluid as a possible indicator of periodontal disease in humans. Archives of oral biology, 35(6), 431-434. Abstract:
  15. Birkedal-Hansen, H. (1993). Role of matrix metalloproteinases in human periodontal diseases. Journal of periodontology, 64(5s), 474-484. Abstract: