How to Differentiate Between Gingivitis and Gum Cancer?

Do you know why your gums bleed or why do you often have bad breath? Are these signs related to gingivitis or something even grave such as oral cancer?

We all know that poor oral hygiene is the root of gingivitis and If the condition is left untreated, gingivitis turns out to destructive oral health issues such as periodontitis, oral thrush, and gum cancer.


But neither you should panic when you see bleeding or swollen gums and nor you should ignore the condition. Not every gum issue is related to gingivitis and similarly not every bleeding gum is a sign of oral cancer.

But there is some interlink between gingivitis and gum cancer. Thus, it is essential that we know the difference between gingivitis and gum cancer.

We can prevent the gingivitis with good oral hygiene regimens such as proper brushing, flossing and mouth rinsing. But unfortunately, cleaning aids cannot cure gum cancer.

Treatment modalities, such as surgical procedure, radiotherapy, and chemotherapy, are necessary to treat cancer. (1)

Let us get to know more about the interlink between the gingivitis and gum cancer in the later part of this article.

What is gingivitis?

Gingivitis is a gingival inflammation which occurs because of poor oral hygiene. Dental plaque harbor bacteria and considered to cause gingivitis. The risk factors that are associated with this oral condition are –

  • Hormonal changes occurring in puberty, menopause, pregnancy, etc.
  • Drugs which reduces saliva flow and causes gum enlargement.
  • Some systemic conditions like cancer, HIV, diabetes, etc.
  • Smoking.
  • Genetic background.

Mild gingivitis doesn’t show marked signs and hence it often goes underlined. As the gingivitis progresses, some other symptoms noticed with gingivitis are –

  • Gum color changes to bright red or purple.
  • Due to inflammation, gum becomes soft and swollen.
  • Bleeding from gums while brushing or flossing.
  • Bad breath.
  • Tender gums that may be painful to the touch.
  • Gingival recession.

Gingivitis can be diagnosed easily on routine dental check-up. The dentist will evaluate the gum condition and decide the severity of the situation. Gingivitis is a reversible condition and can be cured within 1 week.

The dentist performs professional scaling and root planning to treat gingivitis. Besides this, the patient’s counseling is done for maintaining good oral hygiene.

A regular visit to a dentist, maintenance of oral hygiene along with the use of mouthwash is the key to getting rid of gingivitis. (2) If untreated, gingivitis may lead to severe illness such as gingival abscess, periodontitis, oral thrush, etc.

What is oral cancer?

Oral cancer occurs due to an uncontrolled division of cell that causes invasion of the surrounding tissue. It can occur on the lips, tongue, gingiva, the floor of mouth, sinus, etc. Risk factors associated with oral cancer include –

  • Tobacco.
  • Sun exposure.
  • Compromised immunity.
  • Human papillomavirus.
  • The family history of Cancer. (3)
  • Poor nutrition.

Clinically, oral cancer presented as tumor mass or the growing lesion with no sign and symptoms at an early stage. Later on, the signs developed in oral cancer are –

  • Growing mass or lump is seen anywhere in the mouth.
  • Lesions seen include mouth ulcers, sores or whitish-red patches in the mouth that do not heal.
  • Hard swelling persisting for over three weeks.
  • Association of pain with affected region.
  • Loosening of teeth in the affected area with no apparent reason.
  • Weight loss.
  • Poorly fitting dentures.
  • Difficulty in swallowing.
  • A sore throat.

Red and white patches are seen on the gum. Red patches are called as Erythroplakia and white ones are called as Leukoplakia. Leukoplakia is the benign tumor whereas, Erythroplakia mostly turn out be malignant.

A thorough examination of the lesion can diagnose the type of oral cancer. If you have a lesion from more than 2 to 3 weeks and does not heal by the conservative treatment, then the doctor will plan a biopsy with your consent.

The biopsy of the lesion is examined for the cancerous changes at the histopathological level. The lesion is confirmed as oral cancer only after biopsy confirms the destructive nature of the lesion. (4)

The starring feature of the cancerous lesion is that it does not react to conservative treatment aids. Hence, the treatment of cancer mainly consists of surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, etc.

Also, the nutritional care is must to improve the immunity and to compensate with weight loss.

An outlook of oral cancer depends on the stage of the disease. Oral cancer can cure except tumors of the severe stage. But, the treatment modalities of cancer has dangerous side effects.

You may also need to undergo rehabilitation and reconstruction procedure like implant after invasive surgical treatment. But at the end, saving a life is given prime importance by the doctor.

Interlink between Gingivitis and gum cancer

Gingivitis and gum cancer are two dental conditions which often confuses us. These conditions show the following things in common.

  • The areas of redness seen in gingivitis and gum cancer often go unnoticed in both the condition.
  • Both the conditions are not painful in the early stage.

Gingivitis not necessarily turns in a fatal condition such as oral cancer. However, the risk of oral cancer increases in case of gingivitis.

Gingivitis in its severe form leads to periodontitis. Periodontitis is a destructive disease and affects bone. The specific bacteria that is ‘Treponema denticola’ associated with periodontitis is known to cause gastrointestinal or pancreatic cancer.

For this reason, it is anyway better to care for your oral health than inviting cancer.

What prevention should you take?

Regular dental visit helps you to find oral illness at an earlier stage. So, it becomes easy to cure the disease with conservative aids.

The primary cause of Gingivitis is the plaque, so the disruption of the plaque on a daily basis can establish good oral health. For the maintenance of oral health and for plaque-free oral cavity you need take following precautions –

  • Brush twice a day daily for the adequate time.
  • Floss teeth at least once in a day.
  • Rinse your mouth regularly with antiseptic mouthwash.
  • Visit a dentist regularly for a dental check-up and professional cleaning.

A healthy oral cavity decreases the risk of cancer. However, some people tend to develop cancers despite having good oral hygiene. If you have oral cancer, then you must take following precaution –

  • Strict stoppage of smoking and alcohol intake.
  • Avoid excessive sun exposure. You can use sunscreen for protection.
  • Avoid junk food, saturated fat and processed meat.
  • Exercise regularly.
  • Follow a healthy diet. Include plenty of vegetables, fruits, plant-based protein, etc. in your diet.

Preventive aids if appropriately followed, minimizes the risk of serious illness.


Over to you

Gingivitis and gum cancer are two interlinked dental illnesses. Untreated gingivitis increases the risk of gum cancer. Hence, it is a better solution to take proper measure to establish good oral health.

Simplest things such as brushing, flossing, rinsing and regular visit to a dentist can save you from life threating condition like cancer.

Also, you must visit a dentist regularly as the earlier diagnosis of the oral issue helps us to prevent the severity of the disease.


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