Written By Sharon Boyd, RDH, BS. | Reviewed by Lara T. Coseo, DDS
What are Sore Gums?
Sore gums can occur in one area of your mouth or throughout the entire mouth and have a various number of causes. Your gums may be sore when you brush and floss them, or they may be sore throughout the day, causing chronic pain. The soreness is related to infection, swelling, and inflammation of the gums and is simply a symptom of an underlying condition.
What Causes Sore Gums
Germs And Infection
Your body’s natural reaction to plaque germs in the mouth is swollen gums, which causes them to become sore. Germs and gum infections like gum disease are the number one cause of sore gums.
When plaque sits on the teeth for around 24 hours, it calcifies into tartar. Tartar cannot be brushed off and harbors germs that cause gingivitis, resulting in sore gums around the areas of buildup.
Areas between teeth that abnormally collect food are especially prone to being sore, due to the constant packing each time you eat.
Failing Dental Work
Old fillings or crowns can allow germs to cling along the margins or seep into areas that are no longer protected, resulting in localized sore areas along the gums of these teeth.
Irregular Oral Care
Even skipping part of your oral care routine from time to time can allow tissue to become irritated from a buildup of germs. You should floss at least once per day and brush twice each day to prevent sore gums.
Occasionally there may be ingredients in toothpaste or oral care products that cause allergic reactions in the mouth. An example is sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS), which can cause tissue sloughing.
Older or improperly-fitting dental appliances such as retainers, partial dentures or dentures can cause rubbing against oral tissues, creating irritation and soreness throughout the mouth.
Gums that produce a pimple like sores are related to dental abscesses from extensive decay.
Erupting teeth cause sore gums in children – and even in adults. Wisdom teeth may not be fully formed until close to age 30.
Signs And Symptoms
Sore, swollen and sensitive gums are symptoms of gum disease. Sensitive teeth and gums are often due to the buildup of germs along the margin of your gums.
Sore gums often appear as:
- Inflamed, enlarged gum margins
- Rounded gums between the teeth instead of sharp and pointed
- Bright pink, red or even purple
- Bleeding during brushing and flossing
- Painful during brushing or flossing
- Itchy gums
A sore mouth and gums is a signal to you that there is a condition going on in your mouth that needs your attention. Sore teeth can even become mobile or fall out if the infection is severe enough. Even if you have sore gums and tongue, it’s important to take action early on that may be uncomfortable at first to help eliminate the infection.
Dangers And Health Risks
Sore gums are a symptom of infected, swollen gums. This is usually due to existing gum disease on one or all of your teeth. Gum disease can be a complex condition that may make you more prone to suffer from conditions like:
- Heart attack
- Elevated blood pressure
- Cardiovascular diseases
- Erectile dysfunction
- Tooth loss
- Bad breath
- Premature labor
How To Prevent Sore Gums
If sore gums are due to gingivitis and germs:
- Brush the gum lines twice each day with your toothbrush angled 45 degrees toward the margin of the gums. Focus on two teeth at a time, making short strokes back and forth. (1)
- Apply just enough pressure to make the tissue blanch – no more, no less.
- Floss daily by wrapping the floss tightly around each tooth and sliding up and down under the gums as far as it will go. This is usually two or three millimeters.
- Have your teeth cleaned regularly at the dentist to prevent excess tartar buildup.
- Consider using a mouth rinse after brushing to help eliminate any other germs, especially if you are prone to gum infections or have a history of gingivitis. Be sure to avoid mouthwash that contains alcohol, as it can actually contribute to more germ growth in the long run. This is due to the fact that alcohol can dry out the mouth, and a dry mouth is a preferred breeding ground for harmful oral germs. Instead, use a 100% pure botanical mouthwash that is proven to kill the harmful germs that cause gum problems
Preventing other factors that can cause sore gums:
- Clean oral appliances such as retainers and dentures daily
- Remove dentures or partials every night (2)
- Have necessary dental treatment completed in a timely manner
How to Treat Sore Gums
The remedies for sore gums are relatively simple and straightforward. Even dental professionals will stress that to treat sore gums most of the work needs to be done on your own at home. Here’s an overview of a typical treatment for sore gums.
Dental cleanings remove existing germs, plaque and tartar on your teeth and under the gums. Eliminating germs allows you to start from scratch with a clean mouth so you can prevent further infections and reverse the swelling you are currently experiencing. A cleaning usually costs under $100 for traditional prophylaxis, but deep cleanings for gum disease may cost several hundred dollars.
Prescription Mouth Rinse
Topical use of prescription-strength mouthwash such as chlorhexidine can help alleviate initial gum swelling and infection, however, extended use can cause significant tooth staining. (3) Be aware that the alcohol in mouthwash such as this one will actually dry out the mouth and can contribute to harmful germ growth in the long run. Rinses usually cost around $15 and are purchased at your dentist or available for a call-in to the pharmacy.
Ibuprofen is an anti-inflammatory drug that can help alleviate soreness throughout the body, including gums. In cases of severe soreness due to infection, your dentist may prescribe an antibiotic. Most medication is available for a few dollars up to $20 for insurance co-payments.
Home remedies used to get rid of bad breath typically include those that are used to keep your mouth clean. Removing germs that cause bad breath can help you treat bad breath and avoid bad breath. Efficient measures that treat halitosis include:
Improved Oral Hygiene
Even though it may seem like you’re hurting your gums by brushing and flossing them more, dedicated home care on a more frequent basis eliminates most factors that cause sore gums. Angle your brush toward the gumlines when you brush, and be sure that you are flossing under the gums against each tooth.
Nutritional Supplements And A Healthy Diet
An unbalanced diet can make it more difficult for your body to naturally fight infection. Eat plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables and avoid acidic or sugary foods that can feed germs. Be sure you’re getting plenty of vitamins and minerals, taking supplements as needed. Avoid sugar, alcohol, smoking and processed foods.
When applied to the gums or used as a mouth rinse, 100% pure essential oils can help destroy the harmful germs that can lead to problems such as sore or swollen gums. Essential oils are often ingredients in over-the-counter mouth rinses, but commercial rinses typically include alcohol, which can cause stinging and dry mouth, which can contribute to more germs growth.
Sore gums are usually caused by germs. Treat them appropriately.
Sore gums are typically caused by germs in the mouth, which cause gum inflammation, redness, swelling, and soreness. Early on this is known as gingivitis, but it can develop into serious gum disease. Because sore gums are usually related to gum infections you should treat sore gums the same way that you would when you’re treating gingivitis.
Kill the bad germs that cause problems like sore gums – Click Here.
Your Questions About Sore Gums Answered
My gums are sore. What should I do? Gently brush your gums thoroughly every day, including flossing under the gumlines between your teeth to remove germs. Consider using a topical antiseptic like essential oils or mouthwash that will aid in destroying the germs that is causing the soreness.
Brushing and flossing make my gums hurt worse. Do I still have to do it? Yes! If you had a wound on another part of the body that was not cleaned thoroughly it would become infected and sore. As you begin to clean these areas of infection, the soreness will gradually go away. Give it time.
What can I put on my gums to make them not hurt so much? Rinsing with warm salt water can help alleviate some soreness, as well as taking ibuprofen. Topical ointments available over the counter can provide temporary relief. The best treatment is to have rigid oral hygiene with an added natural antiseptic to the area. Chronic soreness should not be ignored.
Can sore gums go away by themselves? No. Neglecting additional care for sore gums will just result in further soreness from complex dental or gum infections. These typically progress into severe gum disease and do not repair themselves.
Can I treat my sore gums on my own? Yes. Mild to moderately sore gums can usually be treated on your own at home. Severely sore gums require professional intervention as well – such as dental cleanings – but your hygienist will still recommend the majority of the treatment be done on your own at home on a daily basis.
I’m experiencing sore gums during pregnancy. Is this normal? This is very normal. During pregnancy, a woman’s hormone levels can fluctuate and cause some swelling in the gums, which may be sore. It’s important to treat any gum infections during pregnancy, as gum disease can be associated with premature labor and low birth weight babies.
Why are my gums sore and white? Gums that are white usually have an infection, burn, are healing from an injury, or possibly at risk of oral cancer. If the gums are sore and don’t improve with time and good oral hygiene, let your dentist know.
Why are my gums sore and red? Red, sore gums are usually the result of gingivitis or periodontal disease. The redness is caused by increased blood flow to the area. Healthy gums should be a coral pink color, not red.
Why do my gums bleed? It’s not normal or healthy for your gums to bleed. Bleeding is caused by antibodies and blood rushing to the area because of an existing infection. Bleeding can be triggered by something as simple as brushing or flossing, because of how thin the tissues are between the infection and your blood vessels.
Why are my gums sore around the tooth? If the soreness is isolated to one tooth, you could possibly have food lodged under the gums. Clean the area thoroughly. If it doesn’t improve, you might have tartar buildup underneath that needs to be professionally removed. Minor gingivitis can usually be reversed at home with good oral hygiene.
Why are gums sore in the back of my mouth? The further back your teeth are, the more challenging they are to keep clean. There’s also a wider space between back teeth to harbor germs. If you don’t floss regularly, your back teeth might get sore. Wisdom teeth are also known for causing sore gums, and are the teeth furthest back in your mouth.
Why are they sore after cleaning? Infected gums are usually sore when brushing/flossing until the swelling starts to go down. It can take up to two weeks of good oral hygiene to reverse sore gums. Just like an infection on your skin, it will be tender to the touch.
Can sore gums cause tooth pain or toothache? Sort of. If a gum infection gets bad enough, it can lead to an abscessed tooth or root surface exposure, triggering pain, sensitivity, and toothaches. Otherwise the soreness will stay within the gums themselves.
Can sore gums cause swollen lymph nodes or swollen glands? Although it’s not as common, the two can be interrelated. For example, if you have a disease such as leukemia, your gums might be sore and bleed while there’s swollen lymph nodes in the back of your mouth. Similarly, aggressive, untreated gum disease might raise your risk of having swollen glands.
Can sore gums cause an earache? Toothaches at the back of your mouth, particularly the last upper back or lower molars, can sometimes lead to referred pain in your TMJ or ear. If you have impacted wisdom teeth, it might also feel like an earache.
Can sore gums cause bad breath? Yes. The germs that causes swollen gums can also contribute to halitosis. Especially if there’s deep tartar or periodontal infections down under the gum tissue.
Can sore gums make teeth more sensitive? Absolutely. Swollen gums are often tender to the touch. And if the gums are starting to recede, the exposed tooth roots are usually very sensitive.
Why are my gums sore where the gums meet the cheek? Sore gums are usually most noticeable when you touch them. If it’s an area of your mouth where there’s tissue folding against itself, you might notice it more than the swelling around other teeth.
Why do sore gums make my tongue sore too? Oral infections, trauma such as biting your tongue or teeth clenching/grinding can lead to sore tongues. Usually the soreness is along the edges where the teeth bite together, but it can also be on the dorsal or top surface of the tongue.
Why is the roof of my mouth sore? If the roof of your mouth is sore, it’s usually because of trauma such as biting into something hard/sharp or an infection. In some cases, sinus pressure can make the roof of your mouth sore.
Why is my jaw sore? A sore jaw is usually caused by something like TMJ disorder, bruxism 'grinding', or an abscessed tooth. It can also be because of impacted wisdom teeth which also cause sore gums.
What causes mouth ulcers? Mouth ulcers can come from trauma such as an orthodontic wire poking your gums, viruses such as cold sores, and suppressed immune systems. Fistulas, which look like pimples on your gum, are another type of sore caused by infected teeth.
Why are my gums sore on one side? It’s likely that one side of your tooth has gingivitis, from not brushing it as well as the other. Or irritation from something you ate could have rubbed/poked your gums.
Do you get sore gums when you’re sick? You can, especially if you haven’t been able to brush and floss. People with nausea and vomiting or acid reflux disease also see side effects inside of their mouths, such as sore gums.
Why do they hurt when I’m sick? When you’re sick, your body’s immune system is in overdrive. If you have swollen lymph nodes, you might also notice soreness in other areas of your body. Sore gums could be more noticeable.
Are sore gums a sign of cancer? Not usually. Oral cancer tends to present itself as sores that don’t heal or red/white areas of tissue. However, sore gums can accompany specific types of cancer like leukemia so it’s always important to stay on top of symptoms and get screened by a dentist.
Are sore gums a sign of diabetes? People with diabetes are more susceptible to gum disease, and vice versa. It can be difficult to manage your blood glucose levels without first addressing oral infections and sore gums.
Does having sore gums cause headaches? Not usually. But if you’re clenching your teeth (bruxing) hard enough that it’s making your gums sore, or your soreness is from wisdom teeth, then you might notice a headache too.
Will sore gums cause a sore throat? Sore throat symptoms usually are not caused by swollen/sore gums. But if you have strep throat and swollen lymph nodes, sore gums could be a side effect.
How long will sore gums last? Minor gingivitis can be reversed in about two weeks, but only if you’re brushing properly and flossing your teeth each day. More advanced gum disease requires additional steps to treat, taking longer to recover from.
What's good for sore gums? Massage, dedicated plaque removal with thorough brushing and flossing, antiseptic mouth rinses, essential oils, and certain vitamins and supplements such as probiotics can help you heal sore gums on your own.
How can I relieve my sore gum pain? Rinsing with warm saltwater can reduce swelling and soreness by drawing inflammation out of the mucosal tissues in your mouth. Clove oil is also useful for treating painful gums.
How long does sore gums take to heal? Mild soreness can usually be reversed within two weeks. However, if you have tartar buildup or periodontal pockets, you’ll need a professional cleaning before you can heal swollen gums.
What will heal sore gums fast? The quickest way to heal sore gums is to have a good oral hygiene routine that you commit to each day.
How can I treat sore gums at home? First, focus on brushing your gumlines gently twice a day. Floss daily, keeping the string tightly wrapped around each tooth as it slides up and down under the gums. Use an antimicrobial or antiseptic mouth rinse with essential oils 'free of alcohol' to target any residual biofilm.
How can I treat sore gums naturally? Naturally removing and preventing plaque buildup is the best way to treat and prevent sore gums. You cannot heal gums unless you’re cleaning your mouth thoroughly every day.
Why are my gums sore when flossing? Since most people don’t floss every day, it can lead to soreness and bleeding when they do floss. The best thing to do is to floss each day and give yourself about two weeks before expecting your gums not to be sore anymore.
Why are my gums sore after brushing? You could be brushing your teeth too hard, or not brushing your gums often enough. For best results, use a soft or extra-soft-bristled toothbrush angled towards the gums, but only apply enough pressure to cause gentle blanching nothing heavier.
Why are my gums sore when eating or chewing? Swollen gums are easier to hit with other teeth when you’re chewing. The food you’re chewing might be firm enough to press into swollen gums, making them sore when you eat.
What do you do about sore gums if you wear dentures? First, let your dentist or prosthodontist know. It could be that your dentures need to be adjusted or relined to prevent sore spots where there’s uneven pressure rubbing your mouth. Second, make sure you’re removing your denture overnight and cleaning it — and your mouth — thoroughly.
Should my gums be sore after a tooth extraction? It's natural for your gums around an extraction site to be sore afterwards. If you had oral surgery such as a wisdom tooth removal, give yourself at least a couple of weeks to fully recover.
How do I treat my gums after a tooth extraction? Avoid eating any hard or crunchy foods for at least a few days. Rinse with warm saltwater every few hours, and apply a cool compress to the side of your mouth for 20 minutes on and off for the first 24 hours.
Why do I have sore gums where my wisdom teeth were? When your wisdom teeth erupt, they press against the gum tissues to create an opening for them to fit through. As the gums thin and open, they become sore.
Why are my gums sore where I have no teeth? It's still possible to get oral infections if you don’t have teeth. Denture wearers especially need to be cleaning their gums and mouth with a soft washcloth, toothbrush, or mouthwash each day.
Does saltwater help sore gums? Yes. Warm saltwater can help to draw out inflammation, especially in mucosal tissues like the ones in your mouth.
What does soothe sore gums? Good hygiene, preventative care, essential oils, clove oil, and cool compresses are all good for soothing sore gums.
Are sore gums a sign of early pregnancy? In most cases, swollen gums because of pregnancy gingivitis and hormonal changes are the most evident several weeks into pregnancy or during menses. They’re not typically an “early” sign of becoming pregnant.
Are sore gums a pregnancy symptom? Pregnancy gingivitis is a type of swollen gum condition that affects some women, even if they have good oral hygiene. It’s attributed to hormonal changes.
Are they a symptom of the flu? Not usually. But the flu virus can make you more aware of body aches and soreness. If you already have sore gums and aren’t brushing your teeth when you’re sick, you might notice the soreness while you have the flu.
Are my gums sore because I am on my period? A small percentage of women experience swollen, bleeding, sore gums when they're on their monthly cycle.
Why do my gums hurt before my period? It's important not to blame sore gums on your period. However, hormonal changes can make some women get monthly symptoms of gingivitis. Be sure you’re brushing and flossing regularly.
Are they sore because I've been whitening my teeth? Whitening products can make your gums sore if not used as directed. When bleaching solution spills onto your gingiva it can lead to chemical burns and bleached gums.
Are they sore because I'm breast feeding? There really isn’t much research to show sore gums linked to breastfeeding. But we do know they’re associated with hormonal changes in some women. Since your body during breastfeeding is similar to when you’re pregnant, it’s not a stretch to draw a correlation between the two.
Is Bonjela good for sore gums? Over-the-counter oral pain relievers like Bonjela and Orajel are okay to use now and then for sore gums, but you shouldn’t rely on it for daily use. If you’ve found that you need pain relief for sore gums at least a few times a week, you need to see a dentist.
February Is National Children’s Dental Health Month; American Dental Association; 2009.
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