woman with sore gums

Does it seem like you always have sore gums? Maybe they’re red, puffy, or even bleed whenever you brush and floss. If you’re wondering “why do my gums hurt so much?”, you’re not the first person to ask. Sore gums are one of the most common conditions that we see in the dental office. Fortunately, they’re also pretty straightforward to treat. But wait too long, and sore gums could wind up costing you your smile! Don’t ignore the warning signs.

Common Reasons for Having Sore Gums

Sore gums are usually the result of an infection or some sort of traumatic injury (like biting down on a chip the wrong way, or jabbing yourself with a toothbrush). The good news is that in most cases, it’s preventable and treatable without going to a dentist, assuming you catch symptoms early. But if sore gums are allowed to go untreated, they typically become so severe that professional care is the only option.

It’s probably safe to say that in 9-out-of-10 cases, sore gums are going to be from something like gingivitis. The word “gingivitis” simply means inflammation (“-itis”) of the gums (gingiva). Swollen gums tend to be tender too. Nearly all cases of gingivitis are because of inadequate brushing and flossing habits. If your oral hygiene routine isn’t what it should be, that’s probably all there is to blame.[1]

However, there are other reasons for sore gums. Such as ulcers, abscessed teeth, and even sinus infections. Understanding the different symptoms and warning signs can help you roll out a process of elimination before calling your dentist’s office.

11 Reasons You Have Sore Gums

1. Gingivitis

Almost everyone experiences gingivitis at one point or another. It’s typically due to inadequate oral hygiene practices, allowing the plaque to sit next to your gums and irritate them. Since your immune system detects higher levels of bacteria in those areas, it rushes antibodies to the adjacent gum tissues (which is what triggers symptoms of swelling and bleeding.)

Symptoms

Classic symptoms of gingivitis include red or swollen gums. Your gum tissues may also bleed whenever you brush or floss. They are usually tender to the touch.

Treatment

An improved brushing and flossing routine are a must. Most people can reverse gingivitis within 10-14 days if they brush and floss appropriately. If your bleeding gums continue, contact your dentist for further advice diagnosis, or treatment.

2. Periodontal Disease 

Left untreated, gingivitis will eventually progress into periodontal disease, a form of gum disease which is the leading cause of tooth loss.

Symptoms

Bone loss, gum recession, “pockets” around the roots of teeth, heavy tartar buildup, and bad breath. Aggressive gum disease can also affect your overall wellness and underlying medical conditions. [2]

Treatment

A series of deep cleanings (scaling and root planing) will remove the source of infection so that you can prevent additional bone loss.

3. Canker Sores

Oral ulcers can be in the form of a canker sore or fever blister. Some are caused by viruses, others from trauma/injury.

Symptoms

Different types of ulcers have different types of “looks” to them. Some are raw. Others pop up in clusters of small blisters (cold sores) or along your lips.

Treatment

Most canker sores go away on their own within a week or two. If you tend to get frequent flare-ups, be sure to see your dentist for a prescription. [3]

4. Stress & Anxiety 

If you’re experiencing severe stress, you may notice that you’re struggling with inflammation or swelling in various parts of your body. Your gums included. When we’re stressed, it weakens our immune system and can make us more prone to gingivitis.

Symptoms

Stress can manifest itself in several ways. From difficulty sleeping and concentrating to loss of appetite or chewing on our fingernails, all of us handle it in different ways. Some of us tend to clench our teeth tightly together, which can make our TMJ and gums sore.

Treatment

Meditation, mindfulness, exercise, and altering your lifestyle can all help with easing symptoms of stress. If you clench your teeth, be sure to get a night guard/bite splint to reduce damage to your tooth enamel and jaw joints.

5. Poor Dental Hygiene/Home Care

Whenever you aren’t brushing or flossing enough, dental plaque naturally accumulates on your teeth along the gums. In turn, your body reacts to the presence of bacteria by rushing antibodies to that area, causing swollen, tender, or bleeding gums.

Symptoms

The first thing you’ll notice is visible white, filmy buildup along your gums. Next, your gum tissues will turn red, swell, or bleed whenever you touch them.

Treatment

By improving your plaque removal techniques and cleaning your teeth more frequently, you can eliminate plaque buildup and prevent your immune system from going into overdrive. Daily flossing is a must, and be sure to brush at least twice a day.

6. Brushing Too Hard Or Flossing Incorrectly

Being way too aggressive with your toothbrush and floss isn’t “better” because you’re doing it harder. It can actually damage your gums and make it impossible for them to heal back to where they were to begin with.

Symptoms

If you’re brushing too hard or being too rough with your floss, your gums will probably start to recede or look misshaped around your teeth. There may be exposed root surfaces or visible irregularities in your gum tissues.

Treatment

Only apply barely enough pressure with your toothbrush to where your tissue blanches. Nothing more than that. And when you floss, wrap it tightly around your tooth so that it slips under the gum line without cutting into them. Floss can slide under your gums by at least a couple of millimeters or more without causing any damage.

7. Tobacco or Vaping

If you smoke, vape, or use any type of tobacco product, you need to be particularly aware of your oral tissues. Not just because of gum irritation, but because of your risk for aggressive gum disease and oral cancer. Smoking can often mask traditional symptoms of gingivitis and periodontal infections, making it easier to lose your smile before you realize there’s even a problem.

Symptoms

Most people who smoke or vape tend to notice soreness in the roof of their mouth before anywhere else. The thing about smoking is that it reduces the inflammatory response inside your mouth, making it easy to completely miss early signs of gum disease. [4]

Treatment

As a dental professional, I cannot stress enough how important it is to not use tobacco, smoking, or vaping products. It could lead to both tooth loss and oral cancer.

8. Tooth Abscess 

Sometimes abscessed teeth are extremely painful (as in, unbearable) while other times they don’t hurt at all. Abscesses are the result of untreated tooth decay or cracks that have worked their way into the nerve of your tooth, trapping infection or bacteria inside the nerve chamber. Without quick treatment, you could lose your entire tooth.

Symptoms

The swelling from an abscess may come and go or even have visible discharge. It typically looks like a small pimple on the gums next to the infected tooth, which we call a “fistula.”[5]

Treatment

The only treatment for an abscessed tooth is root canal therapy (endodontic treatment.) Otherwise, you’ll need to have the tooth extracted to prevent the spread of infection. Treating cavities early can help you avoid an abscess before it starts.

9. Sinusitis 

Individuals who get frequent sinus infections or nasal congestion will occasionally experience sore teeth and gums in their upper jaw. This is because the roots of the upper teeth lay closely alongside your nasal sinuses. When sinuses swell, they press against the teeth and make them sore or cause toothaches.

Symptoms

Sore teeth and gums typically accompany nasal congestion, drainage, or sinus headaches. Symptoms typically go away on their own when allergies or sinus infections improve.

Treatment

Taking an over-the-counter decongestant or antihistamine medication can alleviate the sinus pressure against your teeth. Severe infections need to be treated by a physician and may require antibiotic therapy or other prescription medication.[6]

10. Diet

Some of us tend to be sensitive to acidic or salty foods. Others may get more sensitive gums if they’re deficient in certain vitamins (like vitamin C or vitamin D). People who are anemic are also known for experiencing more frequent symptoms of gingivitis, especially bleeding. It’s also possible to have sore gums from burning them on hot foods, such as pizza or soup.

Symptoms

Diet-related sore gums are usually localized in a certain area of your mouth, such as burns or where those foods came into contact with your gums the most. But if it’s due to a vitamin deficiency, you’ll probably experience traditional symptoms of gingivitis.

Treatment

Consider switching to a non-acidic, low-sodium diet for a few days to see if symptoms improve. Talk to your physician about supplementing with certain vitamins or minerals to get your nutrient levels back in check. Incorporate foods that are good for your teeth and gums

11. Hormonal Changes or Pregnancy 

Some women notice sore gums whenever they’re on their period or if they’re pregnant. Not every female experiences hormone-induced gingivitis, but it’s common enough that you may want to chart your symptoms along with your cycle.

Symptoms

Traditional symptoms of hormone-induced gingivitis include sore, red, or inflamed gums. Pregnant women may also experience “pyogenic granulomas” or “pregnancy tumors” which grow along their gum line and appear like swollen, bulbous areas of tissue.

Treatment

Hormone-induced gingivitis typically resolves itself on its own, at the end of your period/cycle. Pregnant women with raised tissue interfering with eating, brushing, or flossing may want to consider having them surgically removed with a soft tissue laser. Otherwise, they typically go away after giving birth.[7]

Prevention 

In most scenarios, preventing sore gums starts and ends with good home care. But if you don’t brush or floss as you should, symptoms can easily begin to appear after several days. Great oral hygiene is a daily habit and important for removing the bacteria responsible for oral inflammation. Here are a few key points to consider:

  • Use an electric, soft, or extra-soft toothbrush twice a day for a minimum of two minutes
  • When brushing your teeth, focus on the gums by slightly angling the bristles toward the gum line
  • Do not brush aggressively or scrub your gum tissues with a lot of heavy pressure
  • Clean between teeth and under your gums each day with floss or a water flosser to reach bacteria that brushing cannot
  • Schedule professional dental cleanings at least once every six months (or more frequently if you have a history of gum disease)
  • Rinse with a gentle, antimicrobial mouthwash that contains essential oils to help combat dental plaque and gingivitis
  • Use a warm saltwater rinse as needed to alleviate tender gums

When to See a Doctor

If your gums are sore and you’ve re-vamped your oral hygiene routine, give yourself about 10-14 days of steady brushing and flossing. By that point in time, symptoms of mild to moderate gingivitis should be significantly better. But if they aren’t, there’s a good chance you could have more serious gum disease that requires professional attention.

Remember gum problems and be serious, gum disease doesn’t just cause gum pain. It also leads to tooth loss and strains your immune system. Untreated periodontal disease (a form of gum disease) can put you at risk for a stroke, heart attack, diabetes, preeclampsia, pneumonia, ED, and even stillbirth.[8]

Any time you have sore, swollen, or bleeding gums longer than two weeks (with good dental health home care) it’s time to call your dentist’s office and make an appointment. Especially if it’s been more than six months since your last checkup and cleaning. Chances are, you’ll need a good cleaning to remove tartar buildup that’s irritating your gum tissue. But if it’s something else, your dentist can help you pinpoint what’s going on and discuss the best way to treat it.

Overcoming Sore Gums

Wonder “why do my gums hurt?” You probably have gingivitis or some stage of periodontal disease. Prevention-based dental care including regular cleanings and a good home hygiene routine is essential to treating and preventing sore gums.  If it’s something mild like gingivitis, it’s possible to reverse the symptoms within a couple of weeks. But more aggressive infections require professional care. If symptoms persist for more than two weeks, it’s best to go ahead and plan a trip to your dentist’s office for a professional opinion.

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