Written By Sharon Boyd, RDH, BS. | Reviewed by Lara T. Coseo, DDS
| 1 What are Swollen Gums
2 Causes of Swollen Gums
3 Signs and Symptoms
4 Progression of Swollen Gums
5 How to Prevent Swollen Gums
6. Treatments for Swollen Gums
7 Your Questions about Swollen Gums Answered
What are Swollen Gums
Swollen gums are due to an inflammatory response to disease or germs around the teeth. The presence of gum inflammation is used to indicate the severity of conditions such as gingivitis, periodontitis and periodontal disease. When left untreated, mildly swollen gums can progress into severe forms of gum disease resulting in tooth loss.
Simply stated, if your gums are puffy, inflamed or enlarged, you can say that your gums are swollen. Under most circumstances, this swelling will involve several of the triangle-shaped areas of the gums between the teeth called papillae. The swelling itself is often a result of an accumulation of white blood cells and fluids that are reacting to irritation and inflammation caused by germs and plaque along the gum line.
What Causes Swollen Gums
Germs, Gingivitis, And Gum Disease
Red, swollen gums that are painful are a classic symptom of active gum disease due to germs plaque around the teeth. Sore, swollen gums are your body’s way of getting your attention to let you know that gingivitis has started or is progressing into more severe forms of periodontitis.
Here’s some great ways to fight and treat gum disease.
Swollen gums can originate from a number of sources including an infection from a virus or fungus, gingivitis, poorly fitting dentures, sensitivity to toothpaste or mouthwash, malnutrition, vitamin C deficiency, pregnancy and germ buildup.
Swollen gums around a tooth can also be a side effect of:
- Prescription medications
- Pregnancy and birth control pills
- Allergic reactions
- Orthodontic treatment
- Wisdom tooth eruption
Swollen gums from braces are usually due to how difficult it is to keep the area thoroughly clean as well as a response to metallic appliances within your mouth. If you have swollen gums around wisdom teeth or erupting teeth, this tends to be a normal part of the eruption process although it could be an indicator of a cyst formation.
Signs And Symptoms
There are several other symptoms that are often associated with swollen gums. They are most often found together in people who are suffering from an underlying problem such as gingivitis, periodontitis, gum disease or periodontal disease. Symptoms include:
- Bleeding gums
- Sensitive gums and teeth
- Gum recession
- Tartar accumulation
- Loose teeth
- Bright red gums
- Purple or dark red gums
Red, swollen gums may have a red spot on the gums or generalized redness along the margin of the gum lines near the teeth. Significant, obvious redness is typical of underlying infections that have triggered a severe immune response.
The fact that swollen gums present you with a visible symptom makes it rather easy to perform a self-diagnosis. There is usually not much pain associated with swollen gums, so if you are experiencing discomfort from them you should consult with your dentist or doctor immediately.
Dangers And Health Risks
As with most instances of gum disease, swollen gums are often a precursor to or warning sign of a much more serious condition. People that suffer from periodontal disease - the most advanced form of gum disease - have at some point suffered from swollen gums. The good news about this built-in warning system for your body is that it allows you the opportunity to fix things before you suffer from potentially far worse conditions.
When swollen gums are left untreated, it can contribute to severe forms of gum disease that may ultimately result in loss of your teeth.
Swollen gums are also associated with systemic health or disease conditions like:
Type II Diabetes – Blood sugar levels may be difficult to control if active oral disease is present and vice versa.
Cardiovascular Disease – Heart attack, stroke, elevated cholesterol and blood pressure may all have a direct correlation with inflammation associated with gum disease due to the body’s immune response to the presence of germs. Oral germs may dislodge and travel through the cardiovascular system, placing you at an increased risk for cardiovascular attacks.
Erectile Dysfunction – Inflammation associated with active gum disease is linked to erectile dysfunction in men. Treating oral symptoms can help alleviate ED symptoms.1
Obesity – People who experience progression in weight gain are at an increased risk to develop deterioration of their gum health.2
Premature Labor and Low Birth Weight Infants – Oral disease conditions such as periodontitis (swollen gums around the teeth) are risk factors for premature birth.3
Smoking – It is important to note that if you are a smoker, you can experience gum disease without swollen, red or bleeding gums. Smokers often have undiagnosed gum disease with severe bone loss due to the effect that the smoking has on their body’s inflammatory response.
How To Prevent Swollen Gums
The best way to prevent swollen gums is by eating a balanced diet and practicing good oral hygiene each and every day. Keeping oral germs in balance will prevent the body’s need to respond to infection, omitting the symptom of swollen gums. Eating fresh fruits and vegetables and omitting sugar intake will reduce the germs in your mouth that causes swollen gums. Be sure to brush twice each day gently along the gum lines and floss properly to prevent plaque buildup and inflammation. Additional aids such as the use of essential oils can also reduce plaque.
You may also be at an increased risk to develop swollen gums if you have oral appliances that you wear such as braces, dentures, partials, bridges or retainers. If the appliance can be removed, do so each day for thorough cleaning to prevent the risk of infection. You may need additional appliances to keep permanent fixtures (such as braces or bridges) clean on a routine basis.
Swollen Gums Treatments
Swollen gums can be cured with the right treatment. Below you'll find conventional treatments and home remedies you can try.
- Your dentist may choose to prescribe fluoride, mouth rinse, or an antibiotic to help get rid of swollen gums.
- Dental cleanings can help remove calcified germs deposits such as tartar or hard to reach plaque, allowing the swelling to reverse itself and for you to keep your gums clean at home.
- If gum swelling is severe, surgical or laser therapy may be needed to remove excess tissue.
- Essential Oil – Clinical studies have shown that using essential oil as part of your oral care routine may actually be just as good as flossing when it comes to reducing swollen gums.4
- Electric Toothbrushing – High-quality electric brushes are more efficient at removing plaque germs than manual toothbrushes, allowing you to have a better chance of reducing swollen gums.5
- Water Flossing – Using an oral irrigation device such as a water flosser can be more efficient than traditional flossing when it comes to removing germs plaque, which causes swollen gums.6
- Traditional Brushing and Flossing – The key to brushing and flossing is not rushing and taking enough time to thoroughly remove germs from the teeth. Angle the toothbrush toward the gums and gently brush side to side, focusing on two teeth at a time. Spend no less than two minutes twice each day brushing your teeth and gums. When flossing, wrap the floss tightly around the tooth and slide it up and down under the gums several times to remove subgingival plaque.
- Antiseptic Mouth Rinse – Over-the-counter mouth rinses can alleviate mild gingivitis symptoms. They may also contain alcohol that can sting or dry out the mouth. A dry mouth can be a preferred breeding ground for harmful germs. For this reason it is recommended to avoid mouthwash that contains alcohol. Use 100% pure botanical mouthwash instead.
Swollen Gums Are Usually Caused By Germs
Remedies for swollen gums are the same as those used for treating gingivitis and gum disease. Because swollen gums are associated with redness, bleeding and other symptoms of germ-induced gum disease, when you want to understand how to treat swollen gums you should understand how to treat gum disease as a whole.
Your Questions About Swollen Gums Answered
Why are my gums swollen?
Your gums are most likely swollen due to an inflammatory response to infection or germ plaque around your teeth.
How do I cure swollen gums?
To cure swollen, inflamed gums you must keep the area as clean and healthy as possible, reversing the inflammatory response. Proper brushing, flossing, water flossing, nutritional supplements and essential oils are all effective methods to reverse inflammation.
Can I get rid of swollen gums naturally?
Yes. In fact, all dental professionals recommend that you heal your swollen gums on your own, by cleaning the area effectively and using oral hygiene aids or supplements as needed.
I’m pregnant and have swollen gums. Is this normal?
It’s common to have gingival inflammation associated with pregnancy or birth control use due to the hormonal balances in your body. If actual gum disease is present there is extra cause for alarm, as untreated gum disease can increase your risk for premature labor and low birth weight infants.
My swollen gums bleed easily. Why is this?
Inflamed gums have an extra supply of antibodies in the area, which travel through the bloodstream. This means there is also an increased supply of blood to your gums. Cleaning the area will allow blood to cross over the germ barrier until the area begins to heal.
It hurts to clean around my swollen gums. What should I do?
Swelling is typically caused by infection, and germs cause infection. Cleaning infected areas typically causes mild discomfort, but doing so efficiently each day will quickly help alleviate the tenderness during future cleaning.
Are there medications that can make my gums appear to be swollen?
Yes. Certain medications such as blood pressure medication can cause gum tissue to grow. The tissue appears swollen, but it is very firm. It’s recommended that you do not discontinue your medication but rather discuss this concern with your medical doctor.
Are swollen gums normal?
Although gum swelling is common, it’s not normal or healthy. It’s estimated that somewhere around 80% of adults have some type of gum swelling because of gum disease or gingivitis.
What does it mean that I have them?
The type of swelling that you have could mean gingivitis, gum disease, or something like an abscess. It depends on which part of your gums are swollen and how severe the swelling is. On occasion, gums may swell because of hormonal changes (such as pregnancy or menses.)
How long will they last?
Swollen gums will remain that way until the germ source of infection is removed. If the swelling is hormonal in nature, inflammation usually subsides with time.
How long do they take to heal?
Mild swelling that’s associated with gingivitis usually takes two weeks to reverse. If you have gum disease, it can take much longer because of the professional intervention and cleanings that are needed.
How long will they take to go down?
You can get swollen gums to go down within a few days of a re-vamped oral hygiene routine. It may take up to two weeks for all of the swelling to go away.
Does it mean I have a cavity?
If the swelling is localized to one area or starts out as a pimple, it could be due to a large cavity that’s extended into the nerve of your tooth.
Is it bad that they are swollen?
Any time your gums are swollen, it’s a sign that something is wrong with your oral health. Swollen gums are not healthy gums.
Is this an early sign or symptom of pregnancy?
No. Most pregnancy gingivitis cases tend to occur much later during gestation and look different than traditional gingivitis. Some people even refer to it as “pregnancy tumors”.
Is this a sign of teething?
No. A teething baby may have some minor redness where their tooth is cutting through but swelling is not typical.
Do they look different in babies?
If you see swelling on a baby’s gums, it’s probably the tooth underneath that’s pushing upwards as it’s erupting.
What are they a sign of?
Swelling and redness are your body’s immune response to a germ infection in that area. It’s the same as an infected cut on your skin that isn’t kept clean.
Are swollen gums normal or common if you have braces?
Keeping your teeth clean when you wear braces can be a challenge. People in orthodontic appliances tend to get gingivitis more often, because of the extra plaque adhering to their brackets.
Will they cause me to need braces?
No. Your tooth alignment and eruption patterns are not affected by swollen gums. However, if your gum infection leads to bone loss - then yes - your teeth will start to move.
Will they go away after my braces are removed?
It’s important to treat and get rid of your swollen gums before your orthodontic treatment is over. That being said, it’s easier to get rid of gum swelling once your appliances are taken off.
Are swollen gums permanent?
No. Inflammation does not have to be a permanent physical condition. But your gums will stay swollen permanently until the infection is treated.
Will they go away?
Yes. Swelling is best treated as soon as symptoms of inflammation develop. If not, it can progress into extensive gum disease and tooth loss.
Are they a sign of dehydration?
Usually not. However, endurance athletes do occasionally experience temporary swelling throughout their body at the time of their physical exertion.
A sign of infection?
Yes. Swelling is your body’s first response to infection. In the case of swollen gums, it’s usually because of germ plaque congregating along the gums without being removed by floss or a toothbrush.
Can they be a sign of cancer?
Yes. Cancers and tumors may cause isolated swelling in specific parts of the mouth. If you have an area that doesn’t improve with treatment within a couple of weeks or looks different than the other side of your mouth, seek immediate dental care.
Are they a sign of HIV?
People with HIV/AIDS are more prone to developing gingivitis and gum disease.
Are swollen gums dangerous?
Scientific research shows that the severity and extent of gum disease is directly correlated with medical issues like heart attack, stroke, diabetes, and more.
Can they kill you?
Although swollen gums can’t “kill” you, they do increase inflammation and germ levels inside of your body, allowing oral biofilm to spread elsewhere via your cardiovascular system. They can increase your chances of suffering from a cardiovascular attack.
Can they make you sick?
Any time there’s an untreated infection inside of your body, it affects your immune system’s ability to ward off other illnesses.
Can they cause sensitivity?
Swollen gums are usually followed by gum recession, which exposes the roots of your teeth. This part of a tooth is much more sensitive to stimuli, foods, and temperature changes.
Are they a symptom of herpes?
Oral herpetic infections tend to exhibit themselves more as small blisters or cold sores.
Can they be painful?
Yes, as with an infection and inflammation elsewhere in your body, swollen gums may be painful when you try to clean them. They will likely bleed and feel sore each time you brush and floss until the swelling goes away.
Can they cause a sore throat?
No. Gingivitis doesn’t cause a sore throat. It’s likely due to something else like a virus, allergies, or something like strep throat.
Are they a symptom of strep throat?
No. If there is gum swelling in conjunction with strep throat, it is usually already a preexisting condition.
Can they cause jaw pain?
Severe gum swelling from an abscess or periodontal disease (in upper teeth) may radiate itself into referred pain when you open and close your mouth.
Can they cause ear pain?
Ear pain is usually only dental related if there is a condition like bruxism (clenching and grinding) or TMJ disorder. If there is a periodontal abscess or cyst in an upper back tooth, the swelling could potentially mask itself as ear pain.
Can they cause tooth pain?
Yes. Gum disease tends to make teeth sore and sensitive. This stage of inflammation also involves gum recession and bone loss. Minor swelling can lead to tooth pain when you’re touching that area to clean it.
Will they feel hard?
No. Swollen gums are full of fluids, making the softer rather than firm.
Can they give you a headache?
If you have aggressive swelling caused by periodontal disease, a combination of bone loss and tooth mobility may lead to pain throughout your face.
Can they cause an earache?
Earaches usually accompany dental conditions like TMJ disorder, grinding, or abscessed back teeth, but not swollen gums. However, if you have impacted upper wisdom teeth (causing swelling) it might also feel like occasional ear pain.
Can they cause a fever?
Severe gum inflammation such as an abscess can lead to aggressive infections that expand into facial swelling, cause fever, and require hospitalization.
Do they cause bad breath?
Yes. The germs that cause swollen gums tend to lurk under the gum tissues and can cause halitosis.
Are swollen gums a sign of gingivitis?
Yes. The first sign of gingivitis is usually swollen gums. Gingivitis consists of minor inflammation and redness along the edge of the gumlines.
Can I get them on one side of the mouth only?
It’s possible. If you tend to clean one side of your mouth better than the other, the areas with plaque buildup will develop inflammation because of the germs remaining on your teeth.
Can they move your teeth?
Sort of. If your swelling is because of gum disease, the presence of tartar along with gum recession and bone loss will lead to a shift in your tooth alignment.
Can you get them from wisdom teeth?
Yes. It’s typical for people to get swollen gums behind their last molars as their wisdom teeth start to erupt.
Can they cause loose teeth?
Although swollen gums don’t cause loose teeth by themselves, they can lead to bone loss, which in turn results in tooth mobility and loss.
Can toddlers get them?
You might notice swollen gums in specific places if a toddler is about to cut a tooth.
Do they happen when I wake up?
No. Swollen gums are a chronic condition that build up over time, rather than occur spontaneously at different times of the day.
Do they have to do with teething molars?
Erupting teeth form a type of “cyst” around them as they’re getting ready to cut through the gums. You may notice localized swelling right before the tooth comes in.
Are they caused by flossing?
No. Proper flossing is gentle on gums and helps remove the germs responsible for swollen gingiva. Daily flossing is crucial to treating the source of your swelling.
Does flossing help swollen gums?
Yes, but it takes repetitive flossing several days in a row before you start to see improvement. Wrap the floss tightly against the tooth and rub the floss up and down under the gums (rather than straight up and down.)
Does saltwater help?
Warm saltwater rinses are great for managing inflammation and swelling. The solution helps to draw out some of the excess fluid in the gums, relieving irritation and soreness.
Did they start where my wisdom teeth were?
It’s possible. Sometimes wisdom teeth only partially erupt, allowing germs to enter into the gums where it’s hard to clean it away. If you’ve had healthy gums up to this point, the swelling might be due to your wisdom tooth eruption.
Why are they swollen in between teeth?
Germ plaque tends to be heaviest just under the gums and between teeth. If you’re not flossing each day, there will be more germs between teeth (causing inflammation to be worse in those locations.)
Why swollen behind front teeth?
Your lower front teeth (and upper back teeth) tend to collect more tartar than some of the other parts of your mouth. Since tartar harbors germs, your gums will get swollen easily in that area. Brush this part of your mouth longer than others.
Why are they only swollen in one spot?
If you have a tooth that’s crooked or rotated, it probably has more plaque buildup around it (which can trigger localized swelling). If the swelling doesn’t get better, ask your dentist for an oral cancer screening.
How can I soothe my swollen gums?
Clean the area thoroughly twice a day with your toothbrush. Floss daily. Consider using a natural antiseptic such as a mouthwash with essential oils. Schedule a dental cleaning every six months to remove calcified tartar buildup.
Is there a natural way to treat them?
Physically removing plaque is the most important step, but natural antiseptics like essential oils can help reduce swelling by inhibiting germ levels. Some people also respond well to oral probiotics and holistic supplements.
Can I heal them at home fast?
Yes. It usually takes two weeks of good home care and a re-vamped hygiene routine to fully reverse gingivitis. If swelling persists, you may have a more serious form of gum disease and require professional treatment.
Is ibuprofen good for swollen gums?
Ibuprofen is an anti-inflammatory, making it ideal for relieving the soreness caused by swollen gums. However, it does not treat the source of the inflammation.
What about amoxicillin?
Aggressive periodontal disease or an abscess may require antibiotic treatment in conjunction with professional dental cleanings (removing the source of the infection.)
What things are good for swollen gums?
Besides daily brushing and flossing, you may want to consider adding antiseptic mouthrinses that contain essential oils, an oral probiotic, and warm saltwater rinses to your daily routine. Most importantly, schedule regular checkups and cleanings with your dentist.
Can you get swollen gums on your period?
Yes. Just like pregnancy gingivitis, some women experience hormone-induced sore or swollen gums when they’re on their period.
Why did I get them when I woke up?
Chances are you just notice them more because your mouth is dry. When you sleep, your saliva glands slow down, which can leave your mouth drier and other symptoms seem more obvious.
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Article Written By Sharon Boyd
Sharon has been a Registered Dental Hygienist since 2001. She also holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Human Relations and Business. In 2011, she began implementing her dental knowledge into freelance writing services that aided dentists, product designers, continuing education providers and web marketing firms for their online and distribution purposes. She has since bridged her services into the medical and cosmetic surgery fields.
Article Reviewed by Dr. Lara Coseo
Lara T. Coseo, DDS, is a 2004 graduate of Baylor College of Dentistry. She has 13 years of experience practicing general dentistry. She currently serves as a part-time faculty instructor at Texas A&M College of Dentistry and writes dental website content and blog material.