Painful gums are a common problem. Gum pain, swelling, or bleeding can be caused by a variety of conditions.

Read on to learn about 12 causes of gum pain.

Good dental hygiene includes brushing and flossing. However, if you’re overly aggressive, you can irritate and even damage your gums, especially if you’re using a toothbrush with stiff, hard bristles.

If your gums hurt after brushing, use a brush with soft bristles. They typically clean your teeth as well as one with hard bristles, and they’re recommended by the American Dental Association. Also, be less aggressive with your brushing and flossing.

If your gums are red, swollen, and bleeding, there’s a chance that you have gum disease (periodontal disease). Typically, this is a result of not flossing and brushing your teeth well or often enough. The most common type of gum disease is gingivitis. A less common but more severe type is periodontitis.

Caught early, gingivitis can be reversed with proper oral hygiene. To get your gums to stop hurting, brush and floss twice daily and use mouthwash. If it isn’t addressed, gingivitis can progress to periodontitis, which could cause tooth loss.

Canker sores — also known as mouth ulcers — are painful, noncontagious sores that appear on the gums and elsewhere in the mouth. Sometimes they’re red, but they can also have a white coating.

The cause of canker sores is unknown, but they’re thought to result from viral or bacterial infection. People with autoimmune diseases are more likely to develop canker sores.

There is no specific medical recommendation for treating canker sores. They have a tendency to disappear within 14 days. If a mouth ulcer lasts for more than three weeks, consult with your dentist.

Smoking tobacco products like cigarettes and cigars can damage your gums. Using smokeless tobacco — such as chewing tobacco or snuff — can cause even more harm. If you use tobacco, this could be why your gums are hurting.

To improve your gum health, stop using tobacco products. Not only do they damage the gums, but they can also cause cancer.

Some people have allergic reactions to the ingredients in toothpaste, mouthwash, and other oral hygiene products. This could be the reason why your gums hurt.

If you think you might be allergic to a dental hygiene product, try to find out which is responsible for the reaction: Simply eliminate one product at a time to identify the one causing the symptom. Once you identify the product, discontinue using it.

Your sore gums might be an allergic reaction to food instead of a dental hygiene product.

An elimination diet may help you identify what food allergy is hurting your gums. To try this diet, stop eating a certain food for 30 days and then reintroduce it to see what happens.

A quicker way to determine which food or other substance is triggering a reaction is to meet with an allergist. They can help you identify the cause of your reaction and recommend treatment, which will likely include avoidance.

Sometimes you can burn your gums on hot foods like pizza or coffee and forget about the incident. Later, the burned area feels painful.

If you don’t continue to irritate the burn with hot foods or aggressive brushing, the gum tissue will typically heal in 10 days to two weeks.

For many women, changes in hormones can affect their gums at different times of their lives, including:

  • Puberty. The influx of hormones during puberty can increase blood flow to the gums, which can lead to swelling and sensitivity.
  • Menstruation. Shortly before each menstrual period, some women’s gums can become swollen and more likely to bleed. This problem commonly subsides after menstruation has begun.
  • Pregnancy. Beginning in the second or third month of pregnancy and continuing through the eighth month, some women experience swollen, sore, and bleeding gums.
  • Menopause. Some women going through menopause find their gums unusually dry, which can result in soreness and a likelihood of bleeding.

If you notice gum pain associated with one of these hormonal events, have your dentist review your situation and recommend treatment.

An infection next to the root of a tooth can form an abscess. This can result in sore, swollen gums that hurt. If your dentist diagnoses an abscess, they’ll also be able to recommend treatment. Often a root canal procedure is required.

Dentures and partials that don’t fit properly irritate the gums. That constant irritation can lead to tissue damage and gum disease. You can work with your dentist to adjust the fit of your dentures or partials and eliminate gum pain.

Good oral health is supported by proper nutrition, which includes getting enough vitamin B and vitamin C.

Vitamin deficiencies can lead to a number of conditions — such as scurvy — that may cause swollen and sore gums, alongside other symptoms.

Maintaining a healthy, balanced diet that meets recommended daily requirements for vitamins and minerals can treat vitamin deficiency.

Typically showing up as a sore that refuses to heal, oral cancer can appear on your gums, inner cheek, tongue, and even your tonsils.

If you have a sore in your mouth that doesn’t heal after two weeks, visit your dentist for a diagnosis. Cancer treatment often involves surgery to remove cancerous cells or tumors, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy.

There are a number of reasons that you might be experiencing sore gums, but many can be avoided by a healthy lifestyle that includes proper oral hygiene.

If you have persistent pain, swelling, or sores on your gums that stick around longer than a couple of weeks, make an appointment with your dentist for a full diagnosis and recommendation for treatment.