How to Treat Sore Gums

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Sore gums are never fun. They can be mildly tender or swollen, red, and bleeding. A variety of factors can cause sore gums, but once you figure out the cause, the discomfort is almost always treatable.

Read on to find out more about what causes gum pain and what can be done to relieve it.

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What Causes Gum Pain?

Gum pain can be caused by a number of issues. It’s important to know the underlying cause because then it can be appropriately treated.

Canker Sores

More than half of the population gets canker sores. These are painful sores that affect soft parts of the mouth, including the gums. They usually heal on their own in about a week. It’s not known what causes them, but they could be the result of an immune reaction in which white blood cells attack cells in the mouth. Sometimes canker sores are associated with conditions like Crohn’s disease or nutritional deficits, and they may be triggered by certain foods or ingredients in toothpastes.

Gum Disease

Sore gums could be a sign that you have gum disease. The infection usually is caused by poor brushing and flossing habits; other causes include diabetes, certain medications that reduce saliva, and genetics. A periodontist who specializes in treating gums and gum disease may need to do a deep clean of your mouth and gums. Severe gum disease may require surgery.

Rough Brushing and Flossing

If you brush or floss your teeth too forcefully, you can irritate your gums; over time, this can lead to pain and sensitivity. Use a soft-bristled toothbrush and take your time with flossing, making sure to be gentle while still being thorough. Your dentist can show you the proper technique.

Tobacco

People who smoke or use smokeless tobacco products such as dip are twice as likely to have gum disease than nontobacco users. Tobacco weakens your immune system, which makes it harder to fight off germs and infections, including gum infections. It can also take longer for your gums to heal, and gum disease treatments may not work as well.

Food Allergy

Sometimes food allergies can cause sore gums. For example, people with pollen fruit syndrome (PFS), also called oral allergy syndrome (OAS), may notice their gums, mouths, tongues, and throats feel itchy and swollen after eating certain fruits and vegetables, including apples. Over time, swollen gums can become sore and tender. Treatment for PFS includes over-the-counter (OTC) antihistamines.

Hormonal Changes

Your body's fluctuating hormone levels can affect your gums. During puberty, an increase in hormones like progesterone can boost blood flow to the gums, leading to sensitivity and tenderness. The hormonal changes and overall increased blood flow that happen during pregnancy can make people more likely to develop painful gum disease. 

Menopausal people (those who have not had a menstrual period for 12 straight months) and postmenopausal people may also notice pain in their gums due to hormones. Talk to your healthcare provider about treatment options if you suspect your hormones may be causing your gum pain.

Abscessed Tooth

A cracked or diseased tooth that develops a bacterial infection in the root is known as an abscessed tooth. It can cause gum pain, swelling, fever, and other symptoms. Treatment may include antibiotics, drainage and cleaning of the area, and/or a root canal.

How to Treat Gum Pain at Home

Sometimes gum pain can be treated at home, even temporarily while waiting for dental treatment. Always check with your dentist first to make sure it's safe for you.

Gargling Saltwater

A saltwater rinse is an easy and effective way to ease dental pain. It can even help keep bacteria and plaque in check, which could lower your risk of gum disease.

Over-the-Counter Pain Medicine

OTC pain medication can be effective for gum pain. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like(Advil and Motrin (ibuprofen) and Aleve (naproxen) are a good choice because they interfere with an enzyme that causes red and swollen gums.

For moderate to severe pain, combining an NSAID and Tylenol (acetaminophen) has been found to be just as effective as taking medications containing opioids. Topical treatments like numbing gels can be applied directly to your gums.

Cold Compresses

A cold compress will help relieve gum pain better than a hot compress. Never apply a compress directly to your gums; place it on your face instead.

Clove Oil

Clove oil can soothe gum pain and may also help prevent gum disease. It contains a compound called eugenol that's a natural anesthetic and also has antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties. Apply a few drops of oil to a cotton ball and gently wipe over painful areas of your gums. Use clove oil sparingly—too much can actually irritate your gums and cause other problems—and don't use it on children.

Prevention

The best way to prevent gum pain is to keep your mouth healthy. This includes:

  • Brushing thoroughly twice a day with a fluoride toothpaste
  • Flossing daily
  • Seeing your dentist every six months for a cleaning
  • Avoiding tobacco and limiting alcohol consumption

When to See a Dentist

If you have gum pain, bleeding or swollen gums, or feel discomfort when eating, a dentist can give you a thorough evaluation to check for any underlying causes. Let your dentist know about any medications you're taking or chronic health conditions you may have, such as diabetes, because these factors can affect oral health.

Summary

Gum pain can arise from a variety of conditions. It’s important to know the underlying cause so that it can be accurately treated. Home remedies like OTC medication and salt water rinses can provide relief while waiting for treatment, but check with your dentist first.

A Word From Verywell

Gum pain may not start off severe, but if it’s ignored, it can cause significant problems with your mouth and teeth. Early treatment is key, so if you notice any discomfort, call your dentist immediately.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Can a vitamin deficiency cause gum pain?

    Although more research is needed, there's some evidence that deficiencies in vitamins B, C, and D could cause dental problems like swollen and tender gums. If you are concerned about possible vitamin deficiencies, talk with your healthcare provider about testing, diet modifications, and supplementation.

  • How long does gum pain last?

    The duration of gum pain varies and depends on the underlying cause and what treatments, if any, are used. Sometimes OTC and home remedies can provide relief, but this is usually temporary until the underlying cause is addressed.

  • How do I relieve gum pain after a dental cleaning?

    It's common for gums to be sore after a dental cleaning, especially if you had a lot of plaque buildup. Try eating softer foods and gargling with saltwater several times a day, which can help ease pain and speed up the healing process. Your dentist may prescribe a mouth rinse, or they may suggest you take an OTC medicine like Advil or Tylenol.

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Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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