Unmasking Discomfort: 5 Major Causes of Gum Pain

Woman With Toothache At Dentis
07 Sep 2023

Unmasking Discomfort: 5 Major Causes of Gum Pain

The majority of people experience gum pain at some point in their lifetime. For most people, gum pain is acute, meaning it comes on quickly but doesn’t last forever. For others, it’s an ongoing issue.

Acute gum pain usually isn’t something to stress about. Most people can use home remedies to treat sore or tender gums without needing treatment from a dentist.

Ongoing gum pain is more serious. Chronic pain in the gums that comes and goes or persists and worsens could be a sign of something more serious. In this case, visiting your dentist is the best course of action.

How do you know if that pain in your gums is something to worry about? It all depends on the cause. Below, we explain the top five causes of gum pain and how they are treated at home or in a dentist’s office.

1. Gum Disease

Pain in the gums is a common sign of both types of gum disease: gingivitis and periodontitis. You can also identify gum disease by symptoms like red or swollen gums and bleeding after brushing or flossing.

Gum disease happens when food gets left on the teeth. Naturally occurring oral bacteria feast on the leftovers, turning into sticky plaque. The immune system reacts to plaque, leading to symptoms like inflammation and pain.

People who do not floss or brush often or well enough can get gum disease. Gingivitis is a less serious condition. Improving oral hygiene and visiting your family dentist can reverse it and prevent the bacteria from spreading.

Without treatment, gingivitis can progress to periodontitis or periodontal disease. Periodontal disease is irreversible, even with treatment. At that point, the only solution is to prevent the damage from progressing.

If periodontal disease advances, it can result in tooth loss. Sadly, some people lose all their teeth due to this condition.

2. Abscesses

Dental abscesses are hard, pus-filled bumps that form on the gums or teeth. It is caused by a bacterial infection of the gums or teeth. When the infection advances and impacts the tooth pulp, one or more abscesses may form.

Intense, throbbing gum pain is one sign of an abscess. The pain often comes suddenly and worsens with time. In severe cases, the pain may spread to the jaws, ears, or neck and make it difficult to sleep.

Other symptoms of a dental abscess include a red and swollen face, tooth discoloration, shiny and red gums, thermal sensitivity, and bad breath. Your teeth may even become loose because of the underlying decay.

An abscess is almost always a dental emergency. Schedule an emergency dental visit as soon as possible. In the meantime, take an over-the-counter painkiller like ibuprofen.

The treatment your dentist will use depends on the severity of the infection. Tooth extraction and root canals are the most common.

3. Oral Cancer

Oral cancer is relatively rare, making up only 3% of all cancer diagnoses in the United States. Still, pain can be a symptom of this type of cancer, so it is important to be familiar with additional signs.

Also known as mouth cancer, this condition can affect many different parts of the mouth. It can show up on the lips, gums, inner cheeks, and the roof or floor of the mouth. Mouth cancer can even manifest on the tongue.

Pain from oral cancer generally affects the mouth and ears, though not always. Other symptoms to watch out for include a sore on the mouth or lips that doesn’t heal or a growth, lump, or white patch inside the mouth.

You may be at higher risk for oral cancer if you use tobacco products. Heavy drinkers, people who work outdoors, individuals with HPV, and those who have weak immune systems are also at risk.

If any of these symptoms last more than a few weeks, schedule an appointment with your dentist. Your dentist can rule out other possible causes.

4. Ill-Fitting Dentures

A less alarming cause of sore gums is ill-fitting dentures, whether full or partial. If your dentures do not fit correctly, they may irritate the surrounding gum tissue, resulting in pain and discomfort.

Ill-fitting dentures may not feel like a big deal. After all, most people can use over-the-counter painkillers to deal with the pain. However, if left untreated, this issue can lead to complications.

Complications of dentures that don’t fit right include gum tissue damage and gum disease. Additionally, some people develop temporomandibular joint (TMJ) issues, which are notoriously difficult to treat.

Some people may also have trouble chewing their food, increasing the risk of choking and malnourishment. Blistering, headaches, and bite problems are also common consequences of wearing the wrong-sized dentures.

Visiting your dentist is all you need to do to eliminate pain from ill-fitting dentures. Your dentist can adjust the fit to prevent these complications.

5. Improper Dental Hygiene

Even people with excellent oral health experience gum pain from time to time. One of the main culprits of discomfort in these people is brushing too hard, flossing improperly, or both.

Aggressive brushing, using a hard-bristled toothbrush, or buying abrasive toothpaste can irritate your gum tissue. This cause of gum pain is easily identifiable because it shows up directly after brushing your teeth.

When flossing, avoid applying too much pressure. Never let the floss snap between your teeth, as this can create tiny but painful cuts in your gums. Flossing daily can also reduce pain from improper dental hygiene strategies.

Luckily, this issue is an easy fix. A visit to your local dentist should do the trick.

Dental hygienists are experts in oral hygiene skills. They can teach you the proper techniques to maximize your efforts while minimizing pain and discomfort. Plus, a hygienist can recommend the right products to use at home.

Other Potential Causes of Gum Pain

These may be the five most common causes of gum pain, but they are not the only ones. Other reasons your gums may be sore include:

  • Canker sores
  • Tobacco use
  • Allergic reactions to food or oral hygiene products
  • Burns
  • Fluctuating hormones
  • Vitamin B or C deficiencies

Some of these causes, such as fluctuating hormones, are not always preventable. However, making changes to your diet and lifestyle can reduce your risk of experiencing gum pain in the future.

Gum Pain Prevention

Prevention is key to avoiding pain in the gums. It starts with practicing better oral hygiene. Make sure you floss and use mouthwash at least once daily. Brush your teeth at least twice per day or, optimally, after each meal.

Also, use the right oral hygiene products. Buy toothpaste that contains fluoride to strengthen and protect your enamel against decay. Many mouthwash products also contain fluoride for ultimate protection.

Another task to add to your gum-pain-prevention checklist is to visit your dentist at least once per year. Ideally, you should go for a dental checkup every six months for optimal oral health.

Treatment for Pain in the Gums

Sometimes, no matter how well you care for your teeth, gum pain still happens. In that case, you can try home remedies to deal with your pain. If home remedies do not work, it’s time to call a local dentist for treatment.

Home Remedies

Over-the-counter painkillers are the best way to treat all kinds of oral discomfort, including gum pain. Ibuprofen is the gold standard. If ibuprofen alone doesn’t help, try combining it with another painkiller like acetaminophen.

Another effective home remedy for oral pain is a saline wash. Dissolve at least 1 teaspoon of salt in a few ounces of hot (but not boiling) water. Gargle the saline as you would mouthwash and repeat it a few times daily.

Saline rinses work well to kill off pain-causing bacteria. If your pain persists after rinsing with salt water, it is a sign to visit your dentist’s office ASAP.

Clove oil, tea tree oil, and turmeric are natural pain relievers. They may also help with swelling and inflammation. Dab a drop on a Q-tip and apply it to the painful area for relief.

When experiencing gum pain, also consider avoiding irritating foods and drinks. Cut out acidic and spicy foods until you feel better. You may also want to avoid any sharp foods that could puncture and further irritate the painful area.

Dental Treatments

If your pain doesn’t go away with the above home remedies, you must schedule a dentist’s appointment. The same is true of gum pain that is severe, recurring, or constant or that comes with the following symptoms:

  • Persistent bad breath
  • Bleeding in the gums
  • Receding gum
  • Loose teeth
  • Pain while biting or chewing
  • Inflamed or red gums
  • Teeth sensitivity

At your appointment, your dentist will give you a full oral exam. Their primary goal is to uncover the reason behind your gum pain. Once they find the cause, they can prescribe the best course of action for you.

Gums Hurt? Dr. Katie Hicks Can Help

Ill-fitting dentures and improper oral hygiene are two top causes of gum pain. The good news is that they are easily treatable. On the other hand, causes like gum disease, abscesses, and oral cancer may require professional attention. Are you searching for a Tucson dentist for gum pain? Dr. Katie Hicks and Dr. Sarah Picard are here for you. Contact our dental clinic today to get rid of that pain in your gums once and for all.

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