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Are your gums supposed to be white or red?

Gum health is an important part of overall oral hygiene. The color and texture of your gums can indicate potential issues like gingivitis or periodontal disease. Here’s what you need to know about proper gum color and when to see a dentist.

What Causes Gums to Become White?

There are a few reasons why someone might have white gums:

  • Plaque buildup – When plaque, a sticky film of bacteria, builds up on the teeth, it can spread to the gums. As the plaque accumulates, it can cause the gums to turn white.
  • Gingivitis – This mild form of gum disease causes irritation, redness, and swelling. As the condition worsens, the gums can begin losing color and turn white.
  • Smoking – Chemicals from smoking constrict blood vessels, reducing blood flow to the gums. This can give them a whitish, pale appearance.
  • Cancer treatments – Radiation and chemotherapy can affect gum tissue, sometimes causing white patches or discoloration.
  • Nutrient deficiencies – Not getting enough vitamins like folate, iron, and vitamin B12 may cause the gums to appear pale or white.

Generally, white gums are a sign of poor gum health. Proper brushing, flossing, and professional cleanings can often restore them to a healthy pink color.

What Makes Gums Turn Red?

There are also a few common causes of red gums:

  • Gingivitis – The early stage of gum disease causes red, swollen, or bleeding gums. Gingivitis is reversible with professional treatment.
  • Periodontitis – The more advanced form of gum disease that affects the bones and tissues supporting the teeth. It turns gums red, sore, and can lead to loose teeth.
  • Plaque buildup – When plaque isn’t removed thoroughly, it can cause gums to become irritated and red.
  • Pregnancy – Hormone changes during pregnancy can increase sensitivity and lead to red, swollen gums.
  • Medications – Some drugs like blood pressure medications, oral contraceptives, and certain cancer drugs may cause gum overgrowth and redness.
  • Vitamin C deficiency – A lack of vitamin C weakens connective tissue and capillaries, allowing them to become damaged and inflamed.

Persistent red, swollen, or bleeding gums are signs to see a dentist or periodontist. Treatments like scaling and root planing can be used to cure gum disease.

What is Considered Healthy Gum Color and Texture?

Healthy gums should be:

  • Pink – Ranging from light to deep pink. Pigmentation can cause darker pink gums.
  • Firm – They should be tough and resilient to pressure.
  • Stippled – A slightly bumpy texture is normal.
  • No bleeding – Healthy gums don’t bleed, even when brushing or flossing.
  • No swelling – There should be no puffy, inflamed, or swollen areas.
  • No recession – Gums should cover the base of each tooth at the crown.

Here is a table showing normal vs. unhealthy gum appearance:

Normal Gum Appearance Unhealthy Gum Appearance
Pink, stippled texture Red, swollen, or white gums
Firm gums that don’t bleed Bleeding or painful gums
No visible plaque or calculus Visible yellow or white plaque, tartar
Gums fit snugly around teeth Receding, shrinking gums

Pay attention to any changes in gum appearance and consult a dentist promptly if you notice red, swollen, painful, bleeding, or receding gums.

When to See a Dentist

See a dentist right away if you notice any of the following gum problems:

  • Sudden change in gum color – White, red, or purplish gums indicate disease, infection, or injury.
  • Bleeding when brushing or flossing – Frequent bleeding may signal gum disease.
  • Tender, painful, or sensitive gums – Inflammation and infection can cause soreness.
  • Receding gumline – Gums that pull away from the teeth require prompt treatment.
  • Loose teeth – Advanced gum disease can destroy connective tissue and bone.
  • Persistent bad breath – May arise from gum disease bacteria.
  • Gum swelling – An early symptom of gingivitis and periodontitis.
  • Visible plaque or calculus – Hardened plaque needs professional cleaning.

The dentist will examine your gums and may order X-rays to check for bone loss. Treatment may include deep cleanings, antibiotics, or gum surgery if the disease has advanced.

Treatments for Unhealthy Gums

Depending on the cause and severity of the gum problem, treatments may include:

  • Professional dental cleaning – Removes hard plaque and tartar below the gumline.
  • Scaling and root planing – Deep cleaning for plaque and tartar under the gums.
  • Medicated chip treatment – Antimicrobial chips placed in periodontal pockets.
  • Antibiotics or antiseptic rinses – Kill bacteria and reduce gum infection.
  • Gum grafts – Replace lost gum tissue caused by recession.
  • Flap surgery – Lift back gum tissue to clear deeper debris and bacteria.
  • Bone grafts – Help regenerate lost bone support around teeth.
  • Soft tissue grafts – Strengthen thin gum tissue and reduce sensitivity.
  • Laser therapy – Removes diseased gum tissue for regeneration.

Good at-home care like brushing, flossing, and saltwater rinses can also help treat unhealthy gums. Left untreated, gum disease worsens, so see a dentist right away if you have symptoms.

Preventing Unhealthy Gums

You can keep your gums strong and healthy with these tips:

  • Brush gently twice a day
  • Floss at least once daily
  • Get professional cleanings every 6 months
  • Avoid smoking and chewing tobacco
  • Watch for signs of gum disease
  • Eat a nutritious, balanced diet
  • Drink water and stay hydrated
  • Limit sugary drinks and acidic foods
  • Treat dry mouth if present

Here is a comparison of healthy vs. unhealthy gum care habits:

Healthy Gum Habits Unhealthy Gum Habits
Gentle brushing twice daily Infrequent or aggressive brushing
Daily flossing Skipping or improper flossing
Regular dental cleanings/exams Not getting professional cleanings
Balanced, nutritious diet Nutrient-poor diet high in sugar/acid
Not smoking/chewing tobacco Smoking and tobacco use

Making gum health a priority by adopting good oral hygiene habits is key to keeping your gums pink, firm, and healthy long-term.

When Gum Color Changes Occur

Changes in gum color can happen slowly over time or rather suddenly. Be on the lookout for these common scenarios:

  • Gradual lightening of gum color as gingivitis sets in
  • Darkening pink over time in older adults due to thinner gums and translucency of root cementum
  • Sudden whitening of the gums due to injury, infection, or disease progression
  • Increasing redness and swelling as periodontitis advances
  • Light gray hues indicating a vitamin deficiency
  • Gum darkening in women during pregnancy due to hormonal shifts
  • Patchy white spots after radiation treatment for cancers of the head and neck
  • Diffuse whitening over a few weeks from smoking or use of tobacco products

Gradual color changes may be subtle, but take note if your gums are lightening or becoming mottled. Sudden color changes should prompt an urgent visit to the dentist to determine the cause and treatment options.


Healthy gums should be pink and stippled in texture. Red, white, or unusually dark gums signal disease, inflammation, or infection. See a dentist promptly if you notice sudden changes in gum color or appearance. With proper prevention and treatment, you can keep your gums firm, resilient, and pink. Consistent oral hygiene along with professional cleanings, early intervention, and gum treatments when necessary are the keys to long-lasting gum health and an attractive smile.