Can a 3-Year-Old Have Gingivitis?

Any new parent is concerned when their child is in distress, and if your toddler is in pain, your goal is to help them. If your young child cries because of pain in their gums, and you notice that their gums are swollen and seem sensitive, it’s usually not a cause for concern, corresponding with the natural process of teething. Thankfully, gum disease, or gingivitis, is very rare in children below the age of five, and dentists can detect and treat any gum disease at your child’s first dental appointment and make sure you and your child have the right tools and information for a lifetime of disease-free gums.

For about the first three years of a person’s life, their teeth are growing and erupting through the bones of their jaws, where they are held in place by ligaments and supported by gum tissue. As a child’s teeth erupt and shift into place, their gums might appear reddened or visibly inflamed, and the child will express discomfort, either by crying or by talking if they are verbal. The teething process subsides at around the age of three, and as the primary teeth settle into place, the gums return to their normal, healthy state. Sometimes children find that the pain of teething is relieved by pressing the area with their finger; this is fine, but make sure the finger is clean. Some parents use teething rings, and some use cold spoons pressed gently on the gums and find that it helps relieve pain. Over-the-counter NSAID pain medications made specifically for children can also provide relief; these non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications are safe for use in children as directed.

Your child’s dentist will provide instruction for maintaining the health of your child’s new teeth and their gums throughout the teething process, and oral hygiene in toddlers is just as important as it is in adults, if not more so. You can safely brush their teeth when they are too young to do it themselves, and your toddler will learn to brush their teeth twice a day and floss daily with your help and your pediatric dentist’s helpful guidelines. It’s important to use the right size toothbrush for the child’s mouth, and your child’s dentist can help with that, too. Ideally, a child’s diet will include a limited amount of sugary foods or foods high in starch, like white bread, which foster the growth of the harmful bacteria that builds up on the teeth and causes gum disease. While most of this bacteria can be removed with effective brushing and flossing, a dental professional is the only person who can safely remove remaining bacteria, especially at and below the gum line, and bacteria deposits that have calcified.

Because gum disease is so easily treated when caught early, children who see their dentist regularly rarely develop gingivitis of any significance. While it is rare, however, it is possible for a toddler to have gingivitis. If you notice that your child’s gums are visibly swollen and angry-looking or discolored, or if the gums bleed with very little stimulation, your toddler could have gingivitis. However, dentists can detect and treat gingivitis in its early stages, so with regular dental checkups and good home habits, gingivitis can be prevented going forward. If your child has swollen or bleeding gums and there is any visible pus draining from their gums or a streaked appearance to the gum tissue, or if they have a fever, call your pediatric dentist promptly for an emergency visit. These are signs of infection and should be addressed right away.

Most Common Gingivitis Signs in Children