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Gingivitis in Children: Causes, Prevention & Treatment

Medically Reviewed by Khushbu Gopalakrishnan

Gingivitis in Children

Gingivitis, simply put, is gum inflammation. It’s a relatively common condition in children, adolescents, and adults alike. Many children develop gingivitis due to plaque and tartar buildup.

Poor brushing and flossing habits and a diet that fuels harmful oral bacteria can contribute to this buildup. Genetic factors, hormones, and conditions like diabetes can also play a role.

Unlike severe gum disease, gingivitis doesn’t involve any permanent damage to gum or bone tissue. It’s considered a mild or early form of gum disease.

Severe periodontal (gum) disease is rare in children, but gingivitis is much more common. Gingivitis can be reversed with the right lifestyle changes. These may include better oral hygiene practices and improved nutrition.

Causes and Risk Factors of Gingivitis

Some pre-existing conditions can increase a child’s risk of developing gingivitis, but many risk factors are avoidable. Common causes of gingivitis in children include:

Poor Oral Hygiene

Neglected brushing and flossing can lead to gingivitis. This is because brushing and flossing disrupt the formation of plaque. If plaque is allowed to build up, it can inflame the gums.

Dentists recommend brushing twice daily and flossing at least once daily to help prevent gum disease and tooth decay.

Dry Mouth

Some children may have a habit of mouth breathing. This can reduce saliva flow and dry out the teeth and gums. This makes them more vulnerable to oral bacteria.

Some medications a child may take, such as Benadryl, can also cause dry mouth.


Children’s risk of gingivitis increases as they get older, especially once puberty starts. Changing hormones can cause the gums to be especially sensitive to any existing plaque buildup or food debris. This may lead a child to develop gingivitis for the first time during adolescence.

Tobacco Use

Tobacco use is a major contributor to gum disease. Teenagers who smoke or otherwise use tobacco have a higher risk of developing gingivitis.


Constant stress weakens the immune system and increases inflammation. High stress could make the effects of poor oral hygiene even worse.

Poor Nutrition

A diet high in sugary snacks and drinks fuels the bacteria that form plaque.

Poor nutrition also makes it more difficult for the body to fight off infections, which puts children at a higher risk of developing gum disease.

Other Health Conditions

If your child has diabetes or certain other systemic diseases, they have a higher risk of developing periodontal disease. Vitamin K or vitamin C deficiency can also contribute to gum disease in children.

Symptoms of Gingivitis

Symptoms of gingivitis in children and adolescents include:

  • Bleeding gums on probing (erythema)

  • Gum swelling (edema)

  • Dusky or dark red gums

  • Tender or puffy gums

  • Receding gums, which can make teeth appear longer

  • Gums that bleed when brushing or flossing

  • Bad breath that remains even after brushing your teeth

Treating Gingivitis in Children

With the right treatment, gingivitis is reversible. If your child has developed gingivitis, you can help manage it by ensuring they observe good oral hygiene. This includes:

  • Gently and carefully brushing twice a day, including along the gum line

  • Flossing once a day to remove plaque and debris between the teeth

  • Avoiding excessive amounts of sugary food and drinks that promote plaque growth

If your child has significant tartar buildup, their dentist may perform a deep cleaning above and below the gum line. This procedure, called scaling and root planing, may be needed to remove hardened plaque that can no longer be removed at home.

You can treat and reverse your child's gingivitis by removing built-up tartar and keeping new plaque at bay with good oral hygiene. You’ll reduce the risk of it progressing into childhood periodontal disease.

Periodontal disease is rare in children, but it can occur, especially in conjunction with certain systemic disorders. It can take the form of aggressive periodontitis, rapidly damaging the alveolar bone where the teeth sit. This stage of gum disease generally requires surgery and may lead to tooth loss if left untreated.

Preventing Gingivitis in Children

The steps you can take to prevent gingivitis look a lot like early treatment. Your child’s first line of defense against gingivitis is good oral hygiene.

With regular brushing and flossing, plaque deposits are disrupted. They become less likely to harden into tartar, which is a major factor in gum inflammation. Feeding your child a diet low in refined sugar can help keep plaque levels low.

Visiting your pediatric dentist twice a year for regular exams and professional cleanings can also help prevent oral health problems from arising.


Gingivitis is the mildest form of gum disease and can affect children, adolescents, and adults. There are many contributing factors to childhood and adolescent gingivitis, but poor oral hygiene is the most significant.

Another major factor is puberty. As children enter puberty, changing hormones can make their gums more sensitive to plaque and food debris.

Gingivitis is preventable and reversible with the right care. Talk to your pediatric dentist about how to manage your child’s gingivitis.

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