Your gums are very important to your oral health. The gums are made up of firm, pink tissue that covers your jawbones. 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.
Swollen gums, also called gingival swelling, often become irritated, sensitive, and/or painful. You may also notice that your gums bleed more easily when brushing or flossing your teeth.
The most common causes of swollen gums are:
Gingivitis is the most common cause of swollen gums. It is a gum disease that causes your gums to become irritated and swollen. Many people have gingivitis and don’t know it because the symptoms can be quite mild. However, if left untreated, gingivitis can eventually lead to 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 comprised 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 harder than plaque and typically cannot be removed with flossing and brushing alone. Tartar build-up can lead to gingivitis.
Swollen gums can also occur during pregnancy. The rush of hormones your body produces during pregnancy may cause blood flow in your gums to increase. 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 the bacteria that typically cause gum infections. This can increase your chance of developing gingivitis.
Other, less common, causes of swollen gums include:
Being deficient in vitamins, especially B and C vitamins, 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 wealthier nations, such as the U.S., malnutrition is uncommon. When it is present, it is most often seen in elderly 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. Thrush, which is the result of an overgrowth of naturally occurring yeast in the mouth, can also cause gum swelling.
Swollen gums need to be treated with care. Soothe your gums by:
- brushing and flossing gently, so you don’t irritate your gums
- rinsing your mouth with a saltwater solution to rid your mouth of bacteria
- drinking lots of water to help flush your mouth of bacteria. Water will also help stimulate the production of saliva, which kills disease-causing bacteria in the mouth.
- avoiding irritants, including strong mouthwashes, alcohol, and tobacco
- placing a warm compress over your face to lessen gum pain. A cold compress can help to decrease swelling.
There are some preventative measures you can take to avoid this symptom, including maintaining proper oral care and healthy nutritional habits.
Brush and floss regularly, especially after meals. Visit your dentist at least once every six months for a cleaning. If you suffer from dry mouth (which can increase the risk of plaque and tarter buildup), talk to your doctor about mouthwashes and toothpastes that may help with this condition.
Getting enough calcium, vitamin C, and folic acid can help ensure that you don’t develop swollen gums. Those who don’t get enough calcium on a daily basis are more likely to develop gum diseases. Vitamin C and folic acid are important for preventing gingivitis and maintaining healthy 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. He or she will also want to know if you are pregnant or if you’ve had any recent changes in your diet. Blood tests may also be ordered to check for an infection.
Depending on the cause of your swollen gums, your doctor may prescribe oral rinses that help prevent gingivitis and reduce plaque. Your dentist may also recommend that you use a specific brand of toothpaste. In some cases, antibiotics may be prescribed.
In extreme cases of gingivitis, surgery may be required. One common treatment option is curettage, a procedure in which your diseased gums are scraped away to allow the remaining gums to heal.