Do I Have Gum Cancer or Gingivitis?

Do I Have Gum Cancer or Gingivitis?
Author: Espire Dental Posted: March 13th, 2023 Category:

Gum cancer and gingivitis have similar symptoms. But there is no connection between the two. Learn how to tell the difference.

Your gums appear swollen, have a darkened red color, and bleed when you brush or floss. “Do I have gum cancer or gingivitis?” you may wonder. 

While any change in your oral health is best addressed by your dentist, you probably don’t need to worry. You most likely have gingivitis, an early form of gum disease that is easily treated and reversed. Granted, some of the symptoms of gingivitis mimic those of gum cancer. But even though there is no connection between gum disease and gingivitis, it’s good to know the critical differences between the two to get the treatment you need.

Gum cancer vs. gingivitis

The American Cancer Society estimates 54,540 new cases of oral cavity cancer are diagnosed each year. Oral cancers include cancers of the lips, tongue, throat, mouth, and gums. At the same time, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports 47.2 percent of adults age 30 or older have some form of periodontal or gum disease. The percentage rises to 70.1 percent for people 65 and older. 

So what are the similarities and differences between gingivitis and gum disease? Let’s take a look:


  • Red, swollen gums that bleed easily.
  • Receding gum line with a pocket of four millimeters between the gums and the tooth.
  • Caused by poor oral hygiene that increases the amount of plaque and tartar on the teeth, which inflames the gums. 
  • People with dry mouth and smoke are at higher risk for gum disease.

Gum cancer:

  • Lump or thickening on the gums.
  • Unexplained bleeding.
  • Irregular growths on the gums, such as red and white patches (erythroleukoplakia), white-colored patches (leukoplakia), and erythroplakia (red patches). Although leukoplakia is most often benign, erythroleukoplakia and erythroplakia may be a sign of cancer.
  • Caused by excessive tobacco and alcohol use.

There is no link between gingivitis and gum cancer. However, according to one study, older women with periodontal disease may have a higher risk of other types of cancers, including breast, melanoma, and esophageal. The connection isn’t clear, but the risk was elevated even if they didn’t smoke.

Taking care of your gums: the basics

Gingivitis can be reversed if treated before it progresses to a more serious stage of gum disease. Without treatment, gum disease can lead to tooth loss. Luckily, you have the tools to prevent gingivitis at your home with some basic oral care practices:

Brush every day. Ideally, you should brush after every meal and snack. Yet at the very least, you should brush twice a day with a thorough brushing before bedtime. Slowly and gently brush all your teeth to remove bacteria and plaque buildup. Always use fluoride toothpaste. 

Floss once a day. Flossing removes food particles and bacteria stuck between your teeth. Find it hard to floss? Purchase ready-to-use flossers sold in drugstores.

Rinse with mouthwash. Make rinsing with a mouthwash part of your oral care routine. A good swish with a mouthwash clears away the acid in the mouth and can reach those narrow spaces between teeth. Ask your dentist for a recommendation. 

Skip the sweets. The sugar in sweet treats combines with the acids in your mouth to erode the enamel on your teeth. With less enamel, decay burrows into the tooth, resulting in a cavity. So instead of sweets, munch on crunchy fruits and vegetables and sip plenty of water.

Quit smoking. Not only is tobacco bad for your gums, but it’s also a leading cause of oral cancer.

See your dentist twice a year. Those twice-yearly dental appointments are so important for your oral health. Professional cleaning removes the plaque and tartar that brushing alone cannot remove. It also allows your dentist to spot early signs of gum disease so treatments such as tooth scaling and planing can be performed to reverse gingivitis. And most importantly, your dentist can detect oral cancer in its earliest stages when it’s most curable.

Take care of your gums today

Schedule an appointment at Espire’s Mission Valley, CA, location today! Our highly trained dentists can check your gums for any signs of gum disease and start a treatment plan. Don’t live near our Mission Valley, CA, office? Find one of our other locations near you.

Mission Valley, CA
8989 Rio San Diego Drive
Suite 170
San Diego, CA 92108