Written By Sharon Boyd, RDH, BS. | Reviewed by Lara T. Coseo, DDS
What are Gum Infections
Causes for Gum Infections
Gum infections are primarily caused by oral germs that form plaque and tartar, which destroy gum tissue. However, there are other factors that increase your risk for developing gum infections such as stress, tobacco use, hormonal changes, medications, poor nutrition, diabetes, pregnancy or genetics.
Gum Infections From Gum Disease Gums often appear infected when in fact they are experiencing symptoms of gingivitis or moderate to severe gum disease. Small amounts of plaque congregate along the gumlines, depositing the germs below the gums.
When not removed effectively, the body induces a swelling and bleeding response to the infected area. Severe forms of gum disease will also cause destruction of the supporting bone, causing tooth loss.
Gum Infections From Dental Decay When tooth decay is left untreated, it continues to spread throughout the tooth enamel and may also spread to adjacent teeth. Once the decay has reached the inner portion of the tooth, the nerve of the tooth becomes infected.
This infection will attempt to drain, and often causes a “pimple” or abscess near the root of the tooth, draining through the gum tissue. Most abscesses appear to come and go, but the condition is permanent until your dentist removes all of the decay and repairs the tooth.
Viral Or Germ Infection In some cases you can develop gum infections due to viral or germ conditions. This is due to germs building up in the mouth due to bad habits and improper oral hygiene. For example, not removing dentures or partial dentures can allow germs to buildup under the prosthesis and cause germ infections on the gum tissue. Viral infections such as ulcers can cause irritation, but typically go away on their own within about two weeks.
Signs And Symptoms of a Gum Infection
- Swollen or inflamed gums
- Bleeding or receding gums
- Swollen lymph nodes
- Pain during brushing or flossing
- Drainage of pus - clear or white - for one or several areas
- Bad taste in the mouth
- Gums that burn or are tender
- Raw gums
- Tissue that is red or purple
- Spaces between teeth
- Mouth sores
- Loose teeth or change in how teeth bite
Here’s 4 Ways To Avoid Gum Disease
Progression of a Gum InfectionGum infections can become very severe if not treated within a timely manner. When infections go untreated, they can lead to:
- Decay in other teeth
- Loss of teeth and adjacent teeth
- Bone disease
- Complications with other systemic conditions such as diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, etc. (1)
- Gum disease/Periodontal disease
...and in rare cases, the risk of brain abscesses. (2)
Dangers And Health Risks of a Gum InfectionGum infections are related to systemic diseases. The poorer your oral health is, the more likely you are to have severe forms of other health conditions. Likewise, the healthier your mouth is, the more likely you are to have control of systemic diseases that you are also battling. Health risks that are associated with gum infections like periodontal disease include:
- Heart attack or heart disease
- Elevated blood pressure
- Erectile dysfunction
- Premature birth and low birth weight infants
- Respiratory disease
How To Prevent Gum Infections
The best way to prevent gum infections is to have exceptional oral hygiene practices, such as:
- Cleaning between your teeth - Be it with floss or a water flosser, cleaning between your teeth is almost, if not, more important than brushing your teeth. The majority of gum diseases and infections originate between the teeth, where brushing does not reach. Be sure to clean the area at least once each day.
- Brushing effectively - Use a soft-bristled toothbrush and angle the bristles toward your gums. Sweep the brush in small circular motions, focusing on one or two teeth at a time. Be patient and spend at least two minutes during a single brushing, focusing at the gumlines.
- Use pure, proven ingredients - The best way to prevent infections is to kill the major cause – bad germs. A recent University of Kentucky study has shown three 100% pure ingredients kill the germs that lead to gum infection and other problems.
- Supplements and Nutrition - Eating right, getting plenty of rest and exercise can help your gum tissue, like the rest of your body, be healthier. If you battle increased levels of plaque you may consider using an essential oil on your toothbrush to manage gum disease symptoms and help eliminate germs. (3)
Treatments for Gum Infections
- Prescription antibiotics to alleviate symptoms prior to treatment
- Prescription mouthwash
- Deep cleanings
- Routine cleanings
- Gum grafting surgery
- Root canal therapy with placement of a permanent crown
Home remedies for gum infections are very simple, straightforward and affordable. If you want to treat gum infection, always start with proper preventive care. Mild gum infections like gingivitis can be reversed within two weeks of proper home care.
- Brush effectively, at least twice each day, focusing on the gums
- Clean between your teeth with floss, water flossing or a toothpick
- Rinse with warm salt water to alleviate symptoms
- Use essential oils on your toothbrush or in water as a mouth rinse
For more information about treating more moderate gum infections, read our section on gingivitis and gum disease.
Your Questions About Gum Infections AnsweredHow do I get rid of the pain caused by my gum infection? Gum infections typically hurt due to inflammation caused by germs. To get rid of the pain, you want to get rid of the germs. Removing it effectively each day can help alleviate your pain within about 10 to 14 days. In the meantime, rinse with some warm salt water and take an anti-inflammatory - such as ibuprofen - to help with the symptoms.
At what point do I need to see a dentist? If you are having pain associated with the actual tooth - such as hot, sweet, or nerve sensitivity - then you may also have tooth decay, which will need to be treated as soon as possible. If your gum infection appears as a pimple on the gums in the area of the tooth root, you will need to see your dentist for possible nerve treatment.
How do I know it’s a gum infection and not a tooth infection ? If you have a gum infection, your gums will typically be sore, swollen and tender. Tooth infections - tooth decay - usually have pain associated with hot, cold, sweet and sometimes pressure.
Will taking antibiotics remove the entire infection and prevent it from coming back? Antibiotics will remove the initial germ infection, thus alleviating the pain, but unless the tooth decay is removed and the tooth is repaired, the infection will return. Recurrent use of antibiotics can cause drug-resistance.
I’m using a prescription mouthwash that my dentist gave me and it seems to be staining my teeth. What am I doing wrong? You’re not doing anything wrong. Most prescription mouthwash contains Chlorhexidine, an ingredient that can stain your teeth brown when used after several days in a row. You’ll want to be careful with mouthwash containing alcohol, because it can dry out the mouth. A dry mouth can be a breeding ground for bad germs – the very kind that can lead to gum disease and other oral health problems.
- Jepsen S, Kebschull M, Deschner J.; Bundesgesundheitsblatt Gesundheitsforschung Gesundheitsschutz. [Relationship Between Periodontitis And Systemic Diseases].[Article in German] 2011 Sep;54(9):1089-96.
- Clifton TC, Kalamchi S.,Ann R; A Case Of Odontogenic Brain Abscess Arising From Covert Dental Sepsis.; Coll Surg Engl. 2012 Jan;94(1):41-3.
- Bauroth, K., Charles, CH., Mankodi, SM., Simmons, K., Zhao, Q., Kumar, LD.; The Efficacy Of An Essential Oil Antiseptic Mouthrinse Vs. Dental Floss In Controlling Interproximal Gingivitis. A Comparative Study. J Amer Dent Assn. 2003 Mar. Vol. 134 no. 3 359-365.
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.