Gum Pain: Causes and Treatment

Gum pain is widespread in the population. They are always due to an inflammation in the oral cavity - most often it is gum inflammation, medically also called gingivitis.

Gum pain usually stems from sore spots that also burn and are often red and/or swollen. It is not uncommon for the pain to be accompanied by symptoms such as bleeding gums. The painful gums may also pulsate and be accompanied by bad breath.

Furthermore, aphthae in the mouth, white patches, a "furry" feeling in the mouth as well as an altered sense of taste can be possible accompanying symptoms of gum pain. In serious cases, the symptom may also be associated with fever.

Causes of gum pain

If gum pain occurs, it is always due to inflammation. On the one hand, it can be that the gums have suffered an injury, for example through mechanical stimuli such as a toothbrush that is too hard, braces, dentures or an accident; or there is an infection after a virus, bacteria or fungi have caused an inflammation

Gum pain can also be caused by a wisdom tooth. This usually needs to be operated on. Gum pain can also be caused by a disease, such as autoimmune diseases or allergies. In this case, your dentist will recommend a drug therapy that is suitable for your situation.

Causes of gum pain: gingivitis

In general, however, the most common cause of gum pain is inflammation of the gums. This gingivitis is usually not easy to notice because it is painless at first and only manifests itself with some signals over time. The most common symptoms of gingivitis are:

  • reddened gums
  • swollen gums
  • gum pain
  • bleeding gums
  • bad breath

Basically, a number of risk factors can be narrowed down that can lead to inflammation of the gums in the long run, and thus also to gum pain. The most common risk factors for gingivitis are:

  • inadequate oral hygiene
  • hormonal changes (pregnancy, puberty)
  • stimulants such as cigarettes and alcohol
  • general stress
  • foods such as cheese and acidic fruits (citrus fruits, pineapple)
  • heredity/disposition
  • certain medications (such as immunosuppressants, epilepsy medications, prolonged antibiotic use, chemotherapy)
  • immunodeficiency
  • chronic metabolic disorders (such as diabetes mellitus)

Causes of gum pain: infection

In any case, redness, swelling and pain are a natural reaction of the connective tissue and blood vessels to foreign bodies that have penetrated. Wounds in particular ensure that pathogens have an easy time of it. If these bacteria settle in the oral cavity and multiply, an infection is often imminent.

Causes of gum pain: disturbed oral flora

The presence of hundreds of species of bacteria and microorganisms in the oral cavity is perfectly normal and even healthy. The pH value in the mouth and the enzymes contained in the body's saliva - coupled with thorough, regular oral hygiene - ensure that the number of harmful germs does not increase too much.

However, there are some factors as well as diseases that can cause the oral flora to lose its natural balance. This increases the likelihood of plaque forming. This in turn can promote gingivitis, which is associated with gum pain, among other things.

Gum pain: when to consult the doctor

If the gum pain persists for a period of about a week, you should not ignore the signs of gingivitis, but visit your dentist and have the symptoms checked

If gingivitis is present, it can usually be brought under control quickly and without much effort. Only when gingivitis develops into periodontitis, which attacks not only the gums but also the jawbone, can this have far-reaching consequences that can even lead to tooth loss.

If, in addition to the gum pain, fever episodes also occur, a dentist should be consulted immediately and at short notice, as it may be an advanced infection and, in the worst case, blood poisoning.

Treatment of gum pain

If the gum pain is caused by an injury, the dentist will usually apply an ointment or special mouthwash that has an analgesic and antibacterial effect. If, on the other hand, the gum pain is the result of an infection, it is advisable to reduce the number of germs in the oral cavity with a professional dental cleaning as a first step. In addition, the gums and any gum pockets that may have developed as a result of periodontitis can be cleaned with a special laser or ultrasound.

In some cases, the inflamed tissue must be removed. Modern dentistry offers not only surgical measures but also a gentle alternative through the use of lasers.

In addition to treatment at the dentist, it may be necessary to take medication against bacteria, viruses or fungi in order to quickly cure the underlying infection.

What you can do yourself against gum pain

A healthy oral flora with a balanced proportion of micro-organisms is well equipped against the invasion of harmful germs: Only when the number of acid-forming bacteria settle and multiply - dental plaque provides the optimal conditions for this - can diseases develop and lead to symptoms such as gum pain.

The most important prerequisite for a healthy, infection-free oral cavity is therefore thorough, regular dental hygiene. If you conscientiously care for your teeth and the spaces between them several times a day, you lay the foundation for healthy oral flora and prevent not only symptoms such as gum pain, but also sometimes serious diseases of the teeth and gums.

The most important elements of thorough oral hygiene are:

  1. Brush your teeth at least twice a day. Pay attention to the correct technique: little pressure with a toothbrush without hard bristles; gentle circular movements instead of hard scrubbing.
  2. Change your toothbrush regularly (about every eight weeks). Curved bristles that stick outwards are a clear signal that a change is necessary.
  3. Floss daily and use interdental brushes if possible to keep the spaces between your teeth clean. This is where harmful plaque can settle imperceptibly and lead to gum infections.
  4. Use an antibacterial mouthwash daily.
  5. Clean your tongue daily with a special tongue scraper. This is another area where plaque can accumulate, providing a breeding ground for bacteria.
  6. If you have dentures or braces, make sure you clean them thoroughly every day.
  7. Twice a year, you should have your teeth and gums checked by your dentist in order to detect and stop any infections at an early stage and to avoid secondary diseases.
  8. Regularly schedule a professional dental cleaning to have your teeth cleaned thoroughly. 

Avoid gum disease: technique makes the difference

In addition to poor hygiene, improper oral hygiene can also lead to gum recession in the long term: Either if the gums are irritated by an incorrect brushing technique with a hard toothbrush and too much pressure when brushing; or if there is an overload on the teeth, as is the case with night grinding. A very close-fitting frenulum of the cheek or frenulum of the lip can also be the trigger.

However, the most common cause of gum recession associated with inadequate hygiene is the inadequate removal of harmful bacteria, which subsequently promotes gingivitis and, if left untreated, will also cause the gums to recede over time.

It is recommended that you brush your teeth at least twice a day in gentle circular motions with a toothbrush that does not apply strong pressure, and use a toothpaste that contains fluoride. To prevent acid-forming bacteria from multiplying, the removal of harmful plaque is the be-all and end-all of thorough dental hygiene, with which you are already doing a lot against the most common risks for gum recession.

Do not forget the spaces between the teeth

In addition, use dental floss and small interdental brushes for the interdental spaces at least once a day. Germs can settle and multiply unnoticed in these places. Don't forget your tongue either, because bacteria also collect on its surface and should be prevented from spreading. With a special tongue scraper, you can remove these germs daily without much effort.

Avoid receding gums: how to brush correctly

Quite a few diseases of the teeth and gums are triggered by incorrect brushing. This may be due to the toothbrush you use: Make sure the bristles of your toothbrush are not too hard. If you brush incorrectly, rough upward and downward movements with the toothbrush can really push the gums upwards.

Risk factors for gum recession: smoking

Because cigarette smoke reduces blood flow to the gums, smokers usually notice gum problems late or not at all. This is because low blood flow usually means that symptoms such as bleeding gums do not occur, even though gum inflammation is already present.

Cigarette smoke also contributes to a weakening of the general immune system. This allows harmful bacteria in the mouth to multiply more easily and more strongly, which over time also damages the gums and causes them to slowly recede.

Risk factors for gum recession: diabetes mellitus

Diabetics need to keep their blood glucose levels in check for many reasons. If there is a general disturbance of the immune system as a result of unbalanced blood sugar levels, this can also be accompanied by symptoms such as gum recession.

Risk factors for gum recession: infection

Gum diseases such as gingivitis and periodontitis are bacterial infections. By their very nature, these are transmissible, which is why infection, for example between partners, cannot be ruled out.

Risk factors for receding gums: during pregnancy

Because the hormonal fluctuations that accompany the onset of pregnancy can also affect the oral mucosa, harmful bacteria can also multiply during this time, as they can penetrate the mucosa more easily than usual.

If the germs get into deeper layers of the teeth, where they cannot be easily removed with a toothbrush, it can lead to a type of gum recession also known as pregnancy gingivitis. It often occurs in the first months of pregnancy and can result in genetic transmission to the unborn child.

Risk factors for gum recession: mouth breathing

Continuous breathing through the mouth encourages the mucous membranes of the mouth to dry out, which can lead to the colonisation and proliferation of harmful bacteria. Modern medicine has effective solutions for habits like mouth breathing, such as a so-called oral vestibule plate, with which this type of breathing can be permanently remedied.

Risk factors for gum recession: teeth grinding

If you suffer from teeth grinding, a general malocclusion of the teeth or dysfunction of the temporomandibular joint, this can lead to receding gums.

Teeth grinding often happens at night. It is considered a reaction to prolonged stress, which incidentally contributes to the teeth becoming permanently overloaded. Because this dysfunction also results in lower blood flow to the gums, one consequence can also be gum recession.

Risk factors for gum recession: weak immune system

When the immune system is weakened, this can have an impact on all bodily functions and also negatively affect the condition of the teeth and gums. Metabolic disorders, chronic diseases such as diabetes mellitus and severe illnesses such as AIDS or other immune diseases are extreme examples of this.

But external factors also play a role in the strength of the body's own defences. These include smoking, which is considered one of the most significant risk factors for a weakened immune system. Accordingly, smokers are also particularly susceptible to inflammations such as periodontitis, which is accompanied by symptoms such as gum recession.

Risk factors for gum recession: genetic predisposition

Gum inflammation and related symptoms such as gum recession can also be genetic. In advanced stages, this can influence the development of general diseases that may be preceded by gum problems, such as heart disease or diabetes mellitus.

Important note

This article contains general information only and must not be used for self-diagnosis or self-treatment. It cannot replace a visit to the doctor.

Written by Dr. med. dent. Thomas Müller-Hotop, M.Sc. Specialist in Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery, Specialist in Oral Surgery, M.Sc. Implantology.

Mastic toothpastes along with perfect dental hygiene may help with gum disease. Consult this alternative with your dentist.

Gum Pain: Causes and Treatment

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