Your gums are very important to your oral health. The gums are made of firm, pink tissue that covers your jawbone. This tissue is thick, fibrous, and full of blood vessels.
If your gums become swollen, they may protrude or bulge out. Swelling in your gums usually begins where the gum meets the tooth. Your gums may become so swollen, however, that they begin to hide parts of your teeth. Swollen gums appear red instead of their normal pink color.
Swollen gums, also called gingival swelling, are often irritated, sensitive, or painful. You may also notice that your gums bleed more easily when brushing or flossing your teeth.
What causes swollen gums?
Gingivitis is the most common cause of swollen gums. It’s a gum disease that causes your gums to become irritated and swollen. Many people don’t know they have gingivitis because the symptoms can be quite mild. However, if it’s left untreated, gingivitis can eventually lead to a much more serious condition called periodontitis and possible tooth loss.
Gingivitis is most often the result of poor oral hygiene, which allows plaque to build up on the gum line and teeth. Plaque is a film composed of bacteria and food particles deposited on the teeth over time. If plaque remains on the teeth for more than a few days, it becomes tartar.
Tartar is hardened plaque. You usually can’t remove it with flossing and brushing alone. This is when you need to see a dental professional. Tartar buildup can lead to gingivitis.
Swollen gums can also occur during pregnancy. The rush of hormones your body produces during pregnancy may increase the blood flow in your gums. This increase in blood flow can cause your gums to be more easily irritated, leading to swelling.
These hormonal changes can also hinder your body’s ability to fight off bacteria that typically cause gum infections. This can increase your chance of developing gingivitis.
Being deficient in vitamins, especially vitamins B and C, can cause gum swelling. Vitamin C, for example, plays an important role in the maintenance and repair of your teeth and gums. If your vitamin C levels drop too low, you could develop scurvy. Scurvy can cause anemia and gum disease.
In developed nations, malnutrition is uncommon. When it’s present, it’s most often seen in older adults.
Infections caused by fungi and viruses can potentially cause swollen gums. If you have herpes, it could lead to a condition called acute herpetic gingivostomatitis, which causes swollen gums.
What are the treatment options for swollen gums?
If your gums are swollen for more than two weeks, you should talk to your dentist. Your dentist will ask questions about when your symptoms began and how often they occur. Full mouth dental X-rays may be needed. They’ll also want to know if you’re pregnant or if you’ve had any recent changes in your diet. They may order blood tests to check for an infection.
Depending on the cause of your swollen gums, your dentist may prescribe oral rinses that help prevent gingivitis and reduce plaque. They may also recommend that you use a specific brand of toothpaste. In some cases, antibiotics may be necessary.
If you have an extreme case of gingivitis, you may need surgery. One common treatment option is scaling and root planing. This is a procedure in which the dentist scrapes away diseased gums, dental plaque, and calculus, or tartar, on the roots of the teeth to allow the remaining gums to heal.
Treat swollen gums with care. Here are some tips for at-home care:
- Soothe your gums by brushing and flossing gently, so you don’t irritate them. Shop for dental floss.
- Rinse your mouth with a saltwater solution to rid your mouth of bacteria.
- Drink lots of water. Water will help stimulate the production of saliva, which weakens disease-causing bacteria in the mouth.
- Avoid irritants, including strong mouthwashes, alcohol, and tobacco.
- Place a warm compress over your face to lessen gum pain. A cold compress can help decrease swelling.
How can I prevent swollen gums?
There are some preventive measures you can take to avoid swollen gums, including maintaining proper oral care and eating healthy foods.
Brush and floss regularly, especially after meals. Visit your dentist at least once every six months for a cleaning. If you have dry mouth, it can increase your risk of plaque and tartar buildup. Talk to your doctor about mouthwashes and toothpastes that may help with this condition.