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Heather Hanks
Written by Heather Hanks

Reviewed by Dr Angelica L Dumapit on April 5, 2022

How To Identify The Early Stages Of Gum Disease

Dental care isn't covered by all American health insurance plans, meaning you'll need to keep a close eye on your oral health. Learn how to spot the signs of gum disease here.

Gum disease min scaled

Gum disease can be hard to catch because dental care is not always covered in many health care plans for Americans. This is especially true for millennials and young adults.

Additionally, many people don’t visit a dentist regularly unless it’s an emergency, increasing the risk of severe gum disease complications.

This guide serves as a how-to for identifying the early stages of gum disease. Our experts also provide tips for maintaining oral health at home to prevent the condition and when to see a dentist.

Why Is Gum Disease Prevention So Important?

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) believes that health maintenance starts in your mouth. Many Western medicine doctors will agree. After all, the mouth is the first channel in which food comes into contact. The oral cavity marks the beginning of food digestion. It also contributes to voice production and other facial-related functions.

According to registered TCM physician Lim Sock Ling, “Oral health is a reflection of the body health or from TCM’s perspective – yin, yang, qi and Blood Excess or Deficiency. The gums, teeth, and tongue as part of our oral system are associated with all internal organs. Therefore, having good oral health also helps maintain healthy internal organ systems. As the ancient saying goes, “The emphasis of health maintenance is on teeth health.” 

Physician Lim states that the color of your gums says a lot about your health, too. “Gum color reflects the internal body state. In TCM, pale gums reflect Blood Deficiency; bright red gums reflect the exuberance of Stomach Fire; dark red gums reflect Yin Deficiency, and dark purple gums reflect Blood Stasis.”

Physician Lim continued, “However, there may also be variations due to staining of the gum arising from water or metal pollution. The gum’s state also reflects the internal organ health. For example, receding gum implies weak Spleen.” 

How To Spot Early Gum Disease

Red, swollen, or bleeding gums may be an indication of early gum disease.

There are two primary stages of gum disease: early-stage gum (gingivitis) and advanced (periodontitis).

Symptoms of early gum disease may include red, swollen gums that feel tender or painful to the touch and bleed easily when you floss or brush. Bad breath and sensitive gums may also be a sign.

However, in some cases, there are no symptoms at all. This means that regular trips to your dentist are increasingly important.


Gum disease may be caused by bacteria in the mouth, which produces toxins and can irritate the gums. When the bacteria are not removed (through regular oral hygiene), it becomes more difficult to remove. This results in plaque build-up, which leads to tarter – a substance that requires professional dental care to get off.

Some research shows that gum disease may also run in families. For example, people with an exaggerated immune response to oral bacteria may be at an increased risk.

Other risk factors include using tobacco and being diagnosed with certain health conditions, such as HIV, diabetes, arthritis, and heart disease.

Western Medicine Gum Disease Treatment

If you suspect you have gum disease, then your dentist will look at your gums to determine if there is any inflammation. He or she may also use a probe to measure the pockets around your teeth.

Treatment for gingivitis includes a professional cleaning to get the plaque and tartar out of the mouth. Once these are gone, your gums will likely heal on their own.

In severe cases, your dentist may perform scaling or root paneling, which are non-surgical deep cleaning procedures that require a local anesthetic. Antibiotics may be prescribed if you have an infection.

Treating Gum Disease, According To TCM

From a TCM perspective, upper gums are associated with the Stomach meridian and the lower gums are associated with the Large Intestine meridian. Gingivitis or gum inflammation usually happens before gum disease.

Early gum disease is usually associated with stomach Fire. TCM’s treatment includes clear heat and detox, as well as purging stomach Fire. This helps to reduce gum inflammation thus reducing swelling, pain, and the occurrence of bleeding during brushing. This is also beneficial for reducing bad breath. 


Acupuncture can be used to manage dentistry pain. Pain in dentistry was one of the listed conditions in the Geneva WHO 2003 report. The report indicated that acupuncture was proven successful through controlled trials as an effective treatment.

The paper shares that acupuncture can be considered as an alternative or supplement to current dental practice, both as an analgesic and for addressing various dental disorders, such as gum disease. 

Herbal Prescriptions

Bone is associated with the kidney. To have strong teeth, TCM can invigorate kidneys so that the teeth are strong and less likely to become sensitive or drop off. Some herbs that are commonly used are goji berries, Drynaria rhizome, and Corni fructus.

Prescriptions can be customized to manage different syndromes. These can take the form of either mouthwash or herbal medication. 

  • To address heat syndrome, including inflamed, swollen, and bleeding gums or bad breath, prescriptions that contain cooling herbs can be used. These include gypsum, dandelion, honeysuckle, Coptis rhizome, and Scutellaria root. 
  • Spleen qi deficiency syndrome, including pale gums, bleeding, and receding gum, can be treated by strengthening spleen qi to optimize its function. This ensures that nutrients can be supplied to the gums and teeth. Herbs such as Poria and bighead Atractylodes rhizome are useful for this condition.
  • Qi stagnation syndrome can be addressed by taking Cnidium rhizome, clove and cinnamon bark, costus root, and rosebuds.

Oral Health Care Tips To Prevent Gum Disease

Maintaining good oral hygiene is the best way to prevent gum disease.

Here are some habits you can add to your daily routine to keep your gums, teeth, and tongue healthy:

  • Ensure you’re eating foods that contain vitamin C, which is an antioxidant that keeps gums and teeth strong. Examples include berries, grapes, green leafy vegetables, and citrus fruits.
  • Add cranberries to your diet. They contain a compound that helps prevent cavities. If you are going to drink cranberry juice, look for pure juice that contains no added sugar.  
  • Soothe pain and inflammation with cloves. Eugenol, the active ingredient in cloves, has a numbing effect, providing some relief to swollen gums or a minor toothache. Its antiviral and antioxidant properties also help prevent plaque and reduce inflammation. Aged black garlic also has antiviral and antimicrobial properties to help reduce infections.
  • Use a saltwater rinse. Salt is a natural disinfectant that helps heal inflamed gums.
  • Try aloe vera mouthwash or lemongrass oil mouthwash. Either is effective or more effective than chlorhexidine in reducing plaque and gingivitis, according to one study.  
  • Use sage mouthwash. Sage has antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties that may also help heal swollen gums and treat infection. 
  • Try coconut oil pulling. Coconut contains lauric acid, which has anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties. It may also whiten teeth, freshen breath, and relieve headaches and tension.  
  • Brush with baking soda to help prevent tooth decay and discourage the formation of plaque. Mix with water to reduce its concentration or it might burn your gums. Also, floss regularly to help prevent and remove plaque build-up.
  • Drink herbal tea. Research shows that many herbal teas, including green tea and rooibos tea, contain antimicrobial, antioxidant, antiseptic, anti-inflammatory, and anti-collagenase effects that may be useful for preventing periodontal diseases.

When To Seek Medical Treatment For Gum Disease

The tips in this guide are meant to help you identify potential symptoms of gum disease. Always see a dentist or doctor if you have health concerns. Never try to self-medicate as this could make the condition worse.

Seek immediate help if you have severe tooth pain, extremely bad breath, gums that bleed a lot, or extremely swollen or inflamed gums. Remember, the best way to treat gum disease is through prevention. Maintain good oral hygiene and see your dentist regularly.

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