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Gum tissue is naturally soft and sensitive. This means many things can cause sore gums. You might feel pain between your teeth, on top of some of your teeth, or all over your gums. In some cases, you might only feel it in the back of your mouth.

Sore gums can bleed or swell, though they don’t always have visible symptoms. Regardless of what’s causing your sore gums, you might also notice that the pain is worse when brushing or flossing. It’s possible you may feel more pain if you use a harsh mouthwash, especially one containing alcohol.

Keep reading to learn more about the possible causes of sore gums.


Gingivitis is a mild form of gum disease that’s fairly common. It causes inflammation, redness, and irritation of your gums, especially along the bottom of your teeth. Gingivitis can make your gums tear and bleed easily, causing soreness.

Other symptoms of gingivitis include:

Gingivitis is usually caused by poor oral hygiene, such as not flossing or brushing your teeth enough. While it’s not a serious condition, it can quickly progress into a more serious form of gum disease. It’s best to treat it as soon as possible. In most cases, a professional dental cleaning and a regular brushing and flossing schedule should resolve your symptoms.


Oral thrush is a fungal infection that affects your mouth. It involves an overgrowth of a fungus called Candida. This is the same fungus responsible for vaginal yeast infections. Oral thrush is common in babies, older adults, and people who spend a lot of time in hospitals.

Thrush is characterized by white spots on your tongue or inner cheeks. Some people describe the spots as looking like cottage cheese. Occasionally, these spots can spread to your gums, tonsils, or the roof of your mouth. If they reach your gums, you might feel some soreness or irritation.

Oral thrush is treated with antifungal medications. These usually come in several forms, including a pill, lozenge, and mouthwash.

Think you might have oral thrush? Read about six other symptoms of Candida overgrowth.


Periodontitis is a more serious form of ongoing gum disease that can develop from untreated gingivitis. It’s an infection caused by plaque buildup that attacks the tissue and bones supporting your teeth. This causes your gums to recede and your teeth to become loose.

While it usually develops slowly, periodontitis can also come on quickly. Its main symptom is gum soreness, and it can also cause:

Treating periodontitis requires advanced forms of professional teeth cleaning called scaling and root planting. Both of these help to remove bacteria from under your gums. You’ll need to follow up with regular brushing and flossing to avoid another infection.

Hormonal changes

Hormonal changes, including those caused by some birth control pills and puberty, can have a variety of effects. These changes can alter the way your body supplies blood to your gums. This makes your gum tissue more sensitive and vulnerable to damage and irritation.

Hormones also affect the way your body responds to certain toxins produced by plaque buildup.

Additional symptoms of hormone-related gum problems include:

  • red gums
  • puffy gums
  • tender gums
  • bleeding gums

Talk to your dentist if you suspect you have hormone-related gum soreness. They may be able to prescribe medication to help regulate your hormones or give you tips on how to manage sensitive gum tissue.


During pregnancy, your hormones are on overdrive, which can cause problems in your mouth. An increase in progesterone can affect the way your body deals with toxins and bacteria released by plaque, increasing your risk of infections.

Pregnancy gingivitis is a common condition in pregnant women. Increased blood flow to the gums resulting from hormonal changes causes swelling, irritation, and soreness. You may also experience:

  • tender gums
  • bleeding gums
  • red gums
  • puffy, swollen gums

Pregnancy-related gum soreness usually goes away after you give birth and your hormones return to their prior levels. However, it’s still important to try have at least one professional teeth cleaning done during pregnancy. Being extra vigilant about your oral hygiene while pregnant can also help to minimize your symptoms.


Menopause causes changes throughout the entire body, including your mouth. After menopause, you may notice things like:

Saliva is responsible for moistening your mouth and removing toxins and bacteria produced by plaque. Not having enough saliva in your mouth can increase your risk of developing periodontitis. It can also increase the sensitivity of your gums, causing soreness and inflammation.

If your mouth feels dry, try sucking on an ice cube or sugar-free hard candy to increase moisture in your mouth. You can also try using a mouthwash or spray designed to treat mouth dryness.

Canker sore

Canker sores are small sores that can develop on or under your tongue, on the inside of your lips and cheeks, and at the base of your gums. They look like small white dots and tend to feel very tender. Canker sores can appear on their own or in small clusters.

Most canker sores go away on their own within a few days. In the meantime, you can try applying an oral analgesic to temporarily numb the area and relieve pain.

Dental appliances

Dental appliances, such as braces, dentures, retainers, and mouthguards, can all cause gum irritation. When these devices break or don’t fit correctly, they can cause friction that damages delicate gum tissue. In addition to sore gums, you might also notice marks or imprints on your gums left by the device.

Gum irritation can also be caused by chemicals in the products you use to clean or apply your dental appliance. Try switching to a different cleaning solution or adhesive to see if your symptoms improve. If they don’t, work with your dentist to either improve the fit of your appliance or find a product, such as dental wax, to prevent friction and irritation.

Sore gums are not something you want to ignore. Gingivitis and periodontitis are treatable when caught early. The longer these conditions go untreated, the more you risk permanent damage.

Make an appointment with your dentist if your symptoms don’t improve or get worse. Don’t neglect annual visits for dental cleanings and make sure you are brushing and flossing at least twice per day.