Your gums can become swollen for a number of reasons but not all of them would require an immediate trip to the dentist’s office.
Although it is usually not an emergency, swollen gums could mean that something is wrong that needs professional care. Early treatment is the best way to prevent its advancement to other serious diseases.
1. Bacterial Plaque
The commonest cause of swollen gums is a bacterial plaque. Plaque is a substance composed of bacteria and food particles deposited on the teeth over time. With poor oral hygiene, it builds up along the margin of the gum lines and also begins to creep underneath the gum leading to irritation and infection.
After a few days, plaque hardens and forms tartar or calculus and your toothbrush alone can’t remove it. Tartar build-up can lead to gingivitis. If left untreated, it can progress to a more serious condition called periodontitis.
2. Incorrect Brushing Technique
Poor oral hygiene is a common cause of swollen gums, having an incorrect brushing technique could cause swelling as well.
3. Oral Infections
Infections of the oral cavity by fungi like oral thrush and viruses like herpes can make your gums irritated and swollen.
4. Hormonal Changes
The change in hormone levels during pregnancy, menstruation, puberty, or menopause can cause your gums to become swollen because these changes increase blood flow to your gums, making them tender and easily irritated.
These hormonal changes can also hinder your body’s ability to fight off bacteria that typically cause gum infections, increasing your chances of developing gingivitis.
5. Canker Sores
Mouth ulcers, also known as canker sores, can cause painful and swollen gums. Stress and vitamin deficiencies can make you more likely to develop canker sores.
6. Vitamin C Deficiency
When there is a deficiency of vitamin C, it causes a condition known as scurvy. Symptoms of scurvy are swollen gums that bleed easily.
7. Allergic Reactions
Allergy to certain ingredients in toothpaste, food, medications, or even materials used in filling your teeth can cause irritation, redness, or swelling of your gums. Medications used in controlling high blood pressure like nifedipine can also cause gum swelling.
8. Food Or Foreign Body Impaction
Food or foreign bodies, like a fishbone, that become trapped under the gums can be hard to clean out and this can lead to gum inflammation.
9. Burns Or Cuts
A traumatic injury like a cut or burning your mouth with hot foods like pizza or coffee can cause damage to your gums making them swollen.
10. Braces And Oral Appliances
Wearing braces can make your gums swollen because it prevents you from cleaning your gums adequately. Also, appliances like dentures that do not fit properly can irritate the gums leading to pain and swelling.
11. High Or Faulty Fillings
If you have a filling on your tooth that is too high or has rough edges, it provides enough space for bacterial plaque to form. This area is not able to be cleaned easily and can lead to gum infection and gum swelling.
12. Misaligned Teeth
When your teeth are not well aligned, it causes overcrowding making it difficult to effectively brush that area leading to plaque build-up. This, in turn, can cause gum diseases such as gingivitis and periodontitis.
A tumor is an abnormal growth and this can also occur on the gum. A tumor can be benign or cancerous.
14. Medical Conditions
Swollen gums could be a sign of an underlying medical condition like leukemia (cancer of the blood). Others signs are spontaneous bleeding and painful gums.
A gum swelling can be as a result of an infected tooth. The tooth can become infected through an extensive cavity or a fracture, and when the infection spreads downwards, it leads to the accumulation of pus in the gum called an abscess.
An abscess can also be caused by poor oral hygiene, uncontrolled diabetes mellitus, a foreign body trapped in the gum, smoking and failed root canal treatment.
How To Tell If Gums Are Swollen
To know if your gums are swollen, the key is to first know what healthy gums look like.
- Light pink in color
- Smooth and flat margins along the teeth
- Pointed papilla (small protrusions) between each tooth
- Don’t bleed when you brush or floss
- Have no pain
- Typically dark pink or red in color.
- Rolled margin along the teeth
- Blunted papilla between the teeth, or no papilla at all
- May bleed when you brush or floss
- Might be painful with the severity ranging from mild to severe
When To See Your Dentist
Many times, gum swellings are temporary, they disappear after a few days. However, if you notice a persistent or painful gum swelling, it’s important to see your dentist as soon as you can to identify the exact cause and for quick treatment.
The treatment of swollen gums is largely dependent on the nature of the swelling and the cause.
- When caused by a foreign body, faulty tooth fillings, ill-fitting dentures or braces, you will need to see your dentist for treatment. Also, professional cleaning like scaling and polishing and subgingival scaling can also relieve gum swelling.
- Proper brushing technique and also brushing with a medium or soft textured toothbrush can help relieve swollen gums due to vigorous or faulty brushing technique.
- Maintaining a proper oral hygiene practice like brushing twice daily with a soft textured toothbrush and flossing can help to manage swollen gums as a result of gum disease.
- An abscess due to an infected tooth needs to be treated by your dentist. A root canal procedure or an extraction of the tooth is often required depending on the extent of the damage. The abscess is then drained under local anesthesia and medications (analgesics and antibiotics) are prescribed.
- Swollen gums due to medical conditions like leukemia and diabetes need to be co-managed by a physician.
- Warm salt water rinse, over-the-counter analgesics, and topical analgesic gels can be used to relieve gum swelling due to cuts or burns from hot food.
- If the swollen gums are due to an allergic reaction to a food or toothpaste, the exact cause needs to be identified and discontinued. A visit to the physician is required for a medication change if the gum swelling is due to a particular drug.
- Misaligned teeth that are causing swollen gums need to be corrected by an orthodontist (a dentist who specializes in teeth arrangement).
- Hormonal causes of swollen gums can be corrected by regular dental checks and also proper oral hygiene routine.
- Tumors of the mouth need to be reviewed by an oral and maxillofacial surgeon. Depending on the size of the swelling, a part of it is cut and taken to the laboratory to be viewed under a microscope. This is to confirm the diagnosis. The treatment is usually surgical removal of the gum swelling and sometimes, follow up treatment is required.
- Swollen gums due to malnutrition and vitamin deficiency can be corrected by eating a balanced diet rich in fruits and vegetables. Vitamin supplements may also be needed.
- Swollen gums as a result of a canker sore usually resolve under 2 weeks. Proper oral hygiene, using mouthwash and over-the-counter analgesics can help to manage the pain and prevent superinfection by bacteria. Also, an underlying pre-existing condition like stress and vitamin deficiency needs to be addressed.
- Mouth infections like oral thrush need to be reviewed urgently by your dentist for proper management. Depending on the exact cause, antiviral or antifungal medications may be prescribed.
How To Prevent Swollen Gums
To avoid dealing with pain and discomfort associated with swollen gums, you should take the following steps to prevent it from happening in the first place.
- Brush and floss your teeth twice a day.
- Maintain a healthy and well-balanced diet. It’s particularly important to maintain a healthy level of vitamins B and C, folic acid as well as calcium because they are vital to your teeth and gum health.
- Drink lots of water especially after eating so as to help flush out food residue and rinse out trapped food.
- Reduce stress and sleep well. Stress is associated with your dental health as it affects your immune system and makes it difficult for your body to fight bacteria.
- See your dentist regularly for check-ups to ensure your mouth is in perfect condition and for professional cleaning to remove plaque build-up.
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