Swollen gums are no picnic, and many people experience pain, irritation, and tenderness when eating or brushing their teeth due to this condition. Also called periodontal disease, this common condition affects one out of every two people in the US over 30 years old, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In this article, we’ll explore everything you need to know about swollen gums: what causes them, how to treat them, and most importantly, how to prevent yourself from contracting this painful disease. Read on if you’re ready to start your journey toward healthier gums and a more confident smile!
What Causes Swollen Gums? Possible Reasons
Periodontal disease is the most common cause of red, inflamed, swollen and bleeding gums. The condition begins in a mild form called gingivitis and occurs when plaque accumulates near the base of your teeth, irritating your mouth and gums.
The longer the plaque and tartar remain on your teeth, the more unhealthy your gums will become, eventually resulting in periodontal disease, which could ultimately lead to tooth loss. There are many other possible causes for swollen gums, so let’s unpack some.
Food Particles Stuck In The Teeth
If you’ve ever eaten a good steak and ended up with a piece stuck in your teeth, you can relate to this reason for getting swollen gums. When tiny bits of food get stuck in the spaces between your teeth or along your gumline, it creates the perfect breeding ground for bacteria. These tiny microorganisms can cause inflammation in your gums, causing them to become red and swollen.
To prevent this uncomfortable result, remove these unwanted tidbits from your mouth by flossing or using an interdental brush to help you get those hard-to-reach spots between your teeth. If you can’t remove unwanted food from your teeth despite your best efforts, it’s a good idea to see your dentist to restore your teeth – and your gums – to their healthy, food-free state.
When plaque and tartar build up on your teeth due to poor dental hygiene, you can get a form of gum disease called gingivitis. If you don’t remove these layers of plaque regularly, bacteria will take up residence on your teeth.
Once this happens, red, swollen, and tender gums can occur. Other signs of gingivitis you may notice are:
- Gums that bleed when you brush your teeth
- Sensitivity to hot or cold foods when eating
- Bad breath
- Unpleasant taste in the mouth
- The appearance of gums pulling away from the teeth (receding gums)
- Loose teeth in severe cases
As gingivitis progresses, it can develop into periodontitis, a more severe form of gum disease.
Swollen Gums During Pregnancy
It can be common for pregnant women to experience swollen gums during pregnancy due to several factors. Some of these include:
- Hormones. Changes in estrogen and progesterone during pregnancy can make teeth more vulnerable to accumulating plaque and bacteria.
- Saliva. The chemical makeup of saliva changes during pregnancy, making your teeth more susceptible to tooth decay.
- Morning sickness. Constant exposure to stomach acid from frequent vomiting can cause inflammation in the gums.
- Smell and taste aversions. Pregnant women are well-known for being over-sensitive to specific tastes and smells; toothpaste is often one of these aversions. As a result, it can be difficult for pregnant women to brush regularly.
- Food cravings. These cravings for unhealthy food can lead to more plaque and tartar building up on teeth, causing sore gums.
If you’re expecting, floss and brush regularly, and do your best to maintain a healthy diet to prevent tender, inflamed gums.
You are shortchanging your body on essential vitamins and minerals if you don't eat a nutritious diet. When you don’t properly nourish your body, your oral health can suffer, leading to – you guessed it – swollen, bleeding gums. Some important nutrients to consider are:
- Vitamin C creates collagen, keeping your gums and connective tissue healthy. When you don’t get enough vitamin C in your diet, you can develop a condition known as scurvy, a disease notorious for causing bleeding gums. To prevent scurvy, eat a healthy diet full of fruits and vegetables.
- Vitamin D helps build bone and maintain teeth health by helping the body absorb calcium. If you don’t get enough Vitamin D, you lower your resistance to bacteria and gum disease.
- Vitamin K is a blood-clotting vitamin produced in your intestines. Certain conditions – like taking antibiotics – can lead to vitamin K deficiency and cause excessive bleeding, usually beginning with the gums.
- Calcium is necessary for strong bones and teeth, and a lack of sufficient calcium in your diet will put you at risk for gum disease.
- Zinc is linked to gum health in our bodies because it aids in lowering inflammation, particularly the kind caused by bacteria.
You risk developing inflamed gums and, eventually, periodontitis by not getting a balanced diet full of essential vitamins and minerals.
You already know that swollen gums are a sign of infection in your mouth, but other conditions can produce the same result. Here are some illnesses that can lead to painful gums:
- Herpes simplex virus and cytomegalovirus are two types of viral infections that can cause swollen gums
- Oral thrush is a fungal infection that presents as one large, patchy, white spot on gums and tongue.
- HIV is a systemic infection that can weaken the immune system and make your gums more vulnerable to gum disease.
If you have swollen and tender gums and are diagnosed with any of these infections, consult your dentist for advice on how to safely alleviate the symptoms without causing further inflammation.
Many other conditions can cause inflammation in your gums besides the reasons listed here, including:
- Oral cancer, cysts, or tumors
- Hormonal changes outside of pregnancy that occur during puberty or menopause
- Trauma or injury to the gums
- Poorly fitting dental restorations such as crowns or bridges
If you notice your gums becoming inflamed or tender, and any of these conditions apply to you, consult a dental professional immediately.
Brushing And Flossing Too Hard
Taking care of your oral hygiene is the first step to maintaining healthy teeth and gums, but if you brush too hard or floss too enthusiastically, you could be doing more harm than good.
If you use too much force when you brush your teeth, you can damage your gums and the tissue surrounding your teeth. Similarly, wielding your floss like a deadly weapon can also cause trauma to your gums. Both actions leave you with red, sore, swollen, and bleeding gums.
The Link Between Stress And Swollen Gums
Stress can harm your health and well-being by pushing your body into a consistent state of fight-or-flight. Hormones like cortisone wreak havoc on your systems, including your mouth and teeth, making you vulnerable to infection.
When you can’t adequately manage your stress, it will affect your dental health by:
- Weakening your immune system, making you more susceptible to gum inflammation and infection
- Opening the door to unhealthy coping behaviors, like smoking, drinking, and eating junk food, can contribute to gum disease.
- Increasing anxiety and muscle tension can cause teeth grinding, irritate the gums, and cause swelling.
- Allowing elevated cortisone levels increases inflammation throughout the body, including your mouth and gums.
- Causing dry mouth, which can allow plaque to build up more quickly on teeth and gums, making you more vulnerable to gum disease.
To avoid these results, it is essential you do your best to manage and reduce the stress in your life.
Stress Management Techniques To Prevent Swollen Gums
There are several stress management techniques you can try to maintain good oral health. Luckily, many of these are easy to implement in your daily life with just a few easy lifestyle changes.
Meditation, deep breathing exercises, and regular exercise like yoga or walking all help reduce anxiety which will, in turn, strengthen your immune system and reduce inflammation within your body.
Don’t underestimate the importance of looking after yourself. By getting enough sleep, drinking plenty of water, eating plenty of fruits and vegetables, and cutting back on cigarettes and alcohol, you’ll be well on your way to healthy and rosy gums.
Medical Conditions That Can Cause Swollen Gums
A variety of factors, including specific medical conditions, can cause swollen gums. In this section, we’ll explore some illnesses that can lead to tender, inflamed gums.
Diabetes is a chronic condition that afflicts nearly 1.4 million Americans each year. Because the disease affects how a body processes food and converts it to energy, it can result in high sugar levels, leading to infections and inflammation in the gums.
If you have diabetes, regular dental checkups and good oral hygiene are essential to prevent sore and bleeding gums.
Leukemia is a type of cancer that affects blood cells, bone marrow, and the lymphatic system. More commonly seen in children under 15 and adults over 55, symptoms include:
- Weight loss
- Bone tenderness
- Bruising or bleeding easily
- Frequent infections
- Swollen or bleeding gums
Aside from the disease, treatments like chemotherapy, radiation, and bone-marrow transplants can be equally hard on the gums, causing swelling and bleeding in their own right.
Autoimmune diseases, like lupus and rheumatoid arthritis, occur when the immune system goes into overdrive, attacking healthy tissues in the body. This can often result in tender, painful, bleeding gums.
As if that weren’t enough, many of the medications used to treat these illnesses operate by suppressing the immune system, further opening the door for inflammation and gum disease.
Swollen Gums Around Just One Tooth
If you’re experiencing gum pain and notice your gum swollen around one tooth, you should take action to prevent the situation from worsening. A swollen gum around one tooth could have several causes, from bacteria build-up to an injury to the area.
You could experience difficulty or pain when speaking or eating if you can't get treatment. Your first step should be a gentle brush with a soft-bristle brush and some delicate flossing to dislodge any foreign objects you might have lodged in your gumline.
Try to gargle gently with salt water, which will help control the pain and reduce inflammation around the tooth. If this doesn’t work, you should seek help from a medical professional immediately, as the situation could quickly escalate into a severe oral infection.
Swollen Gums After The Extraction Of A Wisdom Tooth
During the removal of your wisdom teeth, it is common to have swollen gums behind the molars, as wisdom teeth are in the back of the mouth. After this procedure, you can experience pain and tenderness for several days.
Due to painful swollen gums around the tooth that was removed, you may have difficulty opening your jaw, eating, or speaking.
To combat the pain and swelling, you can use cold packs or compresses for 20 minutes at a time. Make sure to rest, and flush your mouth gently with warm salt water to promote healing and prevent infection. If you notice the swelling getting worse, see your dentist.
Swollen Gums When Wearing Braces
Whether you’re a newbie to braces or a seasoned wearer of these dental appliances, you’ve likely experienced sore and swollen gums – it’s a pervasive problem when people get braces. Luckily, by learning the causes, home treatments, and prevention strategies, you can reduce your chances of this happening to you.
When you wear braces, you can get swollen gums in a number of ways, including:
- Not brushing correctly or thoroughly enough for the dental appliances
- Food getting stuck in the braces and remaining there
- A cut on gums caused by a wire or bracket
When your braces are first applied, you may also experience pain, tenderness, and swelling in your mouth and gums as you adjust to the new appliances.
If your braces have made your gums swollen and tender, your first and most straightforward remedy is to gargle with warm saltwater. This will help reduce pain, fight infection, and dislodge any bits of food that may be stuck in your braces or between your teeth.
If this strategy proves ineffective, you can use an oral irrigator to remove any food particles that are still stuck. Also known as water flossers, these instruments are shaped like a pick and discharge a pressurized stream of water toward the targeted area.
If you cannot deal with the pain in your gums caused by your braces, you can try using over-the-counter pain relievers, like ibuprofen, which will also act as an inflammatory and decrease swelling.
Finally, if you have open cuts on your gums from the wires in your device, you can use orthodontic wax to cover the sharp edges until you can see your dental professional to fix the problem.
As the saying goes, prevention is worth a pound of cure. The best way to treat painful swollen gums from braces is never to develop them in the first place, and here are some suggestions on how to achieve this.
- Brush with a soft-bristled brush and floss carefully and regularly
- Use an interdental brush to clean between wires and brackets, or better yet, use a water flosser
- Incorporate an antibacterial mouthwash into your daily routine to prevent infection
- Avoid hard, sticky, or sugary foods like candy that can easily get caught in your braces
- If you feel a cut on your gums, see your dentist right away before infection sets in
By paying attention and caring daily for your new braces, you can save yourself from the pain and discomfort of swollen and irritated gums.
Treatment Options For Swollen Gums
If you’re experiencing inflamed, swollen, or bleeding gums, you aren’t the first and won’t be the last. So far, we’ve explored many causes for this condition, and this section will explore medical and at-home treatments to help you find relief.
Your dental professional may recommend several options for your swollen gums, depending on the cause of your condition. They may perform a routine procedure called scaling and root planing, which removes plaque and tartar from the teeth and gums. Removing this residue will decrease inflammation and prevent further damage to your teeth.
If an infection persists, your dentist may prescribe antibiotics like penicillin. It’s crucial you take these medications according to the directions and for the entire course ‒ many people stop too soon, and the infection remains. If your condition has progressed too far, you may require dental surgery to remove damaged tissues.
Aside from using regular and thorough oral hygiene habits, there are other at-home treatments you can use to alleviate the pain and swelling from sore gums.
As we’ve mentioned before, saltwater is an easy and cost-effective way to counteract swollen gums in the comfort of your own home. Saltwater promotes oral health by:
- Balancing the pH in your mouth by reducing acidity, therefore eliminating the environment that attracts harmful bacteria and stopping plaque in its tracks
- Fostering wound healing after surgeries or cuts through a process called gingival fibroblast migration
- Decreasing vulnerability to infection, like the common cold, due to its antibacterial properties
Reducing Pain and Inflammation
Clearly, gargling with warm salt water is a no-brainer when it comes to easy fixes for dental issues. By rinsing your mouth repeatedly, you can ensure the mixture gets everywhere it needs to go, even to the swollen gums in the back of the mouth.
While there is a lack of clinical evidence supporting essential oils as a therapy for gum disease, literature reviews and dental professionals agree they are promising alternative therapies ranking second after antibiotics.
Many oils, such as tea tree or chamomile, have anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, and antifungal properties, which make them an excellent choice for treating painful swollen gums. The easiest way to use these oils is to pair one or two drops with a carrier oil and apply directly to the infected area on your gums with your finger or a cotton swab.
Remember that these oils are very potent, and you never know how you will react to each, so start with a tiny dose to ensure you don’t have an allergic reaction. It is always best to talk with your dentist when considering using essential oils for inflamed gums.
Aloe vera has been around for centuries as a natural remedy for various conditions. This well-known herb possesses antibacterial, anti-fungal, and anti-inflammatory properties, as well as antioxidants, and can aid in reducing the pain and swelling in your gums and preventing infection.
To gain relief, simply take the gel from the leaf of an aloe vera plant and apply it directly to your gums using a cotton swab. You might also want to gargle with an aloe vera mouthwash.
While experts generally consider aloe vera safe to use on your skin or to ingest in small quantities, it is best to consult your doctor or dental professional before using it if you have an allergic reaction.
You can use turmeric to help reduce inflammation and prevent infection in your gums. This bright yellow spice has been used in traditional medicine for thousands of years and contains a compound called curcumin, which has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, among others.
Mix turmeric powder with water or coconut oil to make a paste, then apply it directly to the affected area. You can also add it to dishes like curries and stir-fries for extra flavor.
Be aware that turmeric can interact with some medications and cause staining of teeth and tongue, so be sure to check with your doctor before using it if you have any existing health conditions or are taking medication.
How To Prevent Swollen Gums
Even though we’ve briefly touched on ways to prevent tender and inflamed gums previously, it’s worth emphasizing the techniques you can use to avoid this unwanted outcome.
Aside from adding vitamins for gums to your diet, here’s a list of other precautions you can take:
- Brush Regularly
- Regular toothbrushing is the gold standard for good dental health. Here are some tips to make the most of your brushing routine.
- Use a soft-bristled brush
- Brush twice daily for 2 minutes each time
- Use fluoride toothpaste
- Hold your toothbrush at a 45-degree angle to the gum line
- Brush gently using small, circular strokes
- Make sure to remove more bacteria by brushing your tongue and the roof of your mouth as well
- Consider using a teeth whitening toothbrush to get deeper clean and safely remove surface stains from your teeth
Apply these recommendations to your twice-daily dental routine and enjoy a fresher, healthier mouth.
Adding flossing to your brushing regime gives you a one-two punch to combat gum disease and swollen gums. Remember to do these things when flossing:
- Section off about a foot of floss and carefully wrap each end around your fingers, keeping tension on the line
- Gently guide the floss between the teeth, encircling each tooth to remove plaque and food particles
- Avoid transferring bacteria from one tooth to the other by using a fresh piece of floss for each tooth
- Don’t snap or pull floss against gums; this will irritate them
- Consider using a teeth-whitening electric toothbrush or water flosser to get in between teeth
With careful attention and a soft touch, flossing will keep your teeth clean and reduce your risk of gum disease.
Use Gentle Oral Products
Using gentle oral products is essential to avoid the irritation and sensitivity that can occur from using harsh products and techniques. Some commonly accepted products like hard-bristled brushes, toothpaste with abrasives, and mouthwashes with high alcohol content can be especially hard on your mouth.
Instead, opt for products that are designed to be mild for your teeth and gums. Some options include alcohol-free rinses and soft-bristled toothbrushes.
You might also want to consider using gentle kinds of toothpaste, like teeth whitening toothpaste with mild abrasives, so they don’t scratch the enamel of your teeth or irritate the gum line.
Avoid Sugary Drinks
When you crack open a can of your favorite soda, fruit juice, or sports drink, the sugar inside provides a breeding ground for bacteria that produce acid. In turn, this acid attacks your teeth, which leads to gum disease.
On top of all this, by consuming sugar regularly, you increase the inflammation in your body, which puts you at risk for chronic diseases. Instead of drinking sugary drinks like fruit juice or soda, try these instead:
- Water will wash away food particles and neutralize the acid in your mouth
- Unsweetened tea provides health benefits like anti-oxidants
- Milk, or dairy alternatives can provide calcium and other nutrients
- Carbonated water or water with your favorite fruits will give you the feeling you are drinking soda or sugary drinks but still keep the health benefits
By incorporating these suggestions instead of drinking unhealthy and sugary drinks, you’ll be one step closer to a healthier you and a healthier mouth.
Smoking or using tobacco products is a bad idea for dental health and can result in:
- Gum disease
- Tooth discoloration
- Bad breath
- Gum recession
- Tooth loss
- Increased risk of infection
- Oral cancer
The best way to prevent these unsavory effects is to quit smoking or using tobacco products altogether. Of course, this is easier said than done. If you’re struggling with tobacco addiction, speak to your doctor to get help quitting the habit.
Avoid Alcohol And Alcoholic Mouthwashes
Some mouthwashes contain alcohol, which can dry out your mouth, making you feel like you have burned gums. This will put you at risk of increased plaque and bacteria, eventually leading to gum disease.
Try alcohol-free mouthwashes or home-based remedies, like gargling with warm salt water, to avoid this outcome.
Drinking alcoholic beverages can have the same effect on your oral health, causing dry mouth and increasing your risk of developing oral cancer. Remember to drink in moderation if you want to minimize the effects of alcohol on your dental health.
Avoid Sharp Foods
When consumed, sharp foods can scratch or cut the gum tissue, leading to irritation and, if left to progress, infection. The worst-case scenario is when bits of these foods break off and become lodged in your gumline or between your teeth, creating a great place for bacteria and plaque to accumulate.
Examples of sharp foods are:
- Popcorn kernels
- Ice cubes
- Hard candies
- Tortilla chips
- Raw vegetables
- Toasted bread or bagels
There are some easy ways to prevent sharp foods from causing damage to your gums. Cut larger food into smaller pieces when possible, cook raw food until it is softer, take your time eating, and always practice good brushing techniques to remove any unwanted leftovers from your mouth, teeth, and gums.
When To See A Doctor
If your gums are painful and swollen and don’t improve after using the prevention and at-home treatments mentioned so far, you should see your dentist. If you notice serious symptoms like black gums, or white spots on your gums, these could indicate a serious complication like oral cancer or thrush, and you need to seek medical help immediately.
Your dental professional will give you a thorough examination, determine the causes of your symptoms and recommend the best course of treatment. If you notice unusual changes in your teeth or gums, don’t wait. Healthy gums lead to a healthier life.
Here are some answers to some questions you may still have concerning the prevention, causes, and treatment of swollen gums.
What Is The Fastest Way To Heal Swollen Gums?
The fastest way to heal swollen gums is by brushing twice a day, flossing regularly, using a gentle antiseptic mouthwash, and visiting your dentist for regular check-ups and treatment.
How Do You Get Rid Of Swollen Gums With Braces Overnight?
While you may not be able to get rid of swollen gums from braces overnight, taking over-the-counter anti-inflammatories, rinsing with salt water, practicing good oral hygiene, and visiting your orthodontist is a great start.
How Do You Reduce Swelling In Your Gums?
The quickest way to reduce swelling in your gums is to apply a cold compress, take an over-the-counter anti-inflammatory, rinse with salt water or a gentle anti-bacterial mouthwash, and visit your dentist.
Can A Sinus Infection Cause Gums To Swell?
Yes. Because your sinuses are located close to your gums, if one swells, it may cause swelling in the other.
Are Swollen Gums Painful?
Yes, swollen gums can be tender and painful, particularly when brushing or eating, but not all cases of swollen gums cause pain.
Are Swollen Gums Bad?
Yes. Swollen gums can indicate an underlying medical issue, like gum disease, so you need to get them checked out.
Are Swollen Gums Common?
Yes, swollen gums are a very common medical issue that can have many causes.
Are Swollen Gums An Early Sign Of Pregnancy?
Yes, swollen gums can be an early indicator of pregnancy due to many of the health issues accompanying pregnancy, like hormonal factors or morning sickness, which can increase bacteria and plaque in the mouth.
Can Swollen Gums Cause Headaches?
Yes, the inflammation and pain from swollen gums can trigger nerve responses that result in headaches.
Can Swollen Gums Cause A Toothache?
Yes, the inflammation and swelling from swollen gums can put pressure on your teeth and roots, causing pain.
Can Swollen Gums Cause Ear Pain?
Yes. Your gums and ears share a common nerve, which may transfer the pain from swollen gums to your ears.
Can Swollen Gums Cause Loose Teeth?
Yes. If left untreated, inflammation and infection from gum disease can damage tooth structures, causing teeth to become loose and eventually fall out.
Can Swollen Gums Cause Teeth Sensitivity?
Yes, the inflammation from swollen gums causes the gumline to recess, exposing the sensitive roots of the teeth to pain from hot, cold, or sweet foods and beverages.
Can Swollen Gums Cause A Sore Throat?
Yes, if the inflammation and infection from your gums spread to your throat, it can become sore.
How Long Do Swollen Gums Last?
There is no set time limit for swollen gums; it depends on the underlying cause and how you and your dentist choose to treat the condition.
Summing It All Up
Swollen gums can happen to anyone at any time for a variety of reasons. You can prevent them by practicing good oral hygiene, eating a healthy diet, and avoiding alcohol and tobacco.
If you notice your gums are inflamed and irritated, it's important to see your dentist right away. They will talk to you about treatment options like antibiotics, scaling, root planing, or surgery in severe cases.
By brushing and flossing daily and visiting your dentist regularly, you can prevent swollen gums and live your best life – with your best, pain-free smile!