Your regular tooth brushing routine could reveal an unpleasant surprise if you notice that your gums look somewhat puffy and more red than usual. As most people don’t want to consider a serious condition as the cause, you may be inclined to wait and see what happens, hoping your gums will return to normal within the next day or so.
To cut to the chase, the best case scenario is that you simply have a hard piece of food (like a popcorn hull) caught between back teeth set very closely together and wedged against the gumline. Flossing to remove the irritant will immediately relieve the issue. However, if you floss daily (which you should), this typically wouldn’t have enough time to cause a problem — and you’d be likely to feel the sensation of something between your teeth.
However unsettling as it may be, swollen gums far more often than not indicate a condition that needs the attention of your dentist. As Personal Care Dentistry points out, “Swelling anywhere in the body is not normal, and is actually a red flag to alert you that something is going on and needs to be addressed.” So forget about wishful thinking. Make an appointment a.s.a.p. for diagnosis and treatment! Yet the question remains, what causes swollen gums, and how can you keep your gums healthy?
Common Symptoms of Swollen Gums
Healthy gums are a light pink or coral color, are smooth and flat along the gumline, and have pointed papilla (small protrusions) between each tooth. Swollen — or inflamed — gums have the following symptoms:
- Dark pink, red, blue or purple in color.
- Rolled margin along the teeth.
- Blunted papilla between the teeth, or no papilla at all (black triangle).
- Bleeding when you brush or floss.
- Bad breath.
- Uncomfortable to severe pain.
Common Causes of Swollen Gums
The primary cause of gum inflammation is plaque, also known as biofilm. As our blog post — “Types of Gum Disease” — covers, plaque forms on your teeth when starches and sugars in food interact with bacteria normally found in your mouth. Brushing your teeth twice a day and flossing once a day removes plaque, but it very quickly forms again. Swollen gums typically indicate gingivitis — which is the first stage of periodontal disease. If left untreated, gingivitis develops into periodontitis, which can result in bone infection and ultimately tooth loss.
Abscessed tooth — As Cleveland Clinic defines it, a tooth abscess is a pocket of pus from a bacterial infection in your gums. An abscess usually looks like a red, swollen bump, boil or pimple. It affects the involved tooth, but can also spread to surrounding bone and neighboring teeth. Abscesses can occur in different places around a tooth for different reasons.
Medications — If you’ve recently started a new prescription medication and are noticing gum issues, talk to your doctor. It could be a side effect from your medicine.
Different toothpaste or mouthwash — If you’ve recently switched brands, you may be having a reaction.
Poor nutrition — An unbalanced diet that lacks fruits and vegetables sets you up for vitamin deficiencies that lead to periodontal disease — and many other health issues. A vitamin C deficiency can cause inflamed gums if you’re not getting your recommended daily dose.
Pregnancy — Swollen, inflamed and sensitive gums are common during pregnancy due to hormone changes. Our blog post — “What You Need to Know About Dental Care During Pregnancy” — covers this topic in greater detail.
Fitted dental appliances and dental restorations — Braces, retainers and dentures may cause swollen or sore gums. Likewise for crowns or bridges if dental cement becomes caught under the gumline. However, a conscientious dentist will check carefully when placing a restoration to make sure the cement doesn’t migrate to other areas.
How to Help Relieve and Prevent Swollen Gums
As mentioned earlier, unless you have a piece of food irritating your gums, you will need to schedule an appointment with your dentist. Only an examination can diagnose the cause, which will lead to appropriate treatment. If the dental examination doesn’t reveal a cause — or indicates a medical condition — you may be referred to make an appointment with your primary healthcare provider.
Also as mentioned earlier, plaque — which soon hardens into tartar — is the main cause of swollen gums. The longer plaque and tartar remain on your teeth, the more damage they can do. You can’t get rid of tartar by brushing and flossing. Only a professional dental cleaning can remove it. If not removed, tartar sets up conditions for gingivitis.
As the old saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure! Here are the fundamental steps to prevent swollen gums and the gingivitis they tend to indicate:
Practice good oral hygiene — Brush your teeth for two minutes at least twice daily — in the morning and before going to bed — and floss at least once a day. If possible, brush after every meal or snack. Flossing before you brush allows you to clean away the loosened food particles and bacteria.
Schedule regular dental visits — See your dentist or dental hygienist regularly for cleanings, usually every six months. If you have risk factors that increase your chance of developing periodontitis, you may need professional cleaning more frequently. Annual dental X-rays can help identify diseases that are not seen by a visual dental examination and monitor for changes in your oral health.
Follow healthy practices — Leading a lifestyle that includes healthy eating and managing blood sugar if you have diabetes also are important to maintaining gum health. Drinking enough water every day, getting enough sleep and minimizing stress are other keys to a healthy lifestyle, which makes for a more robust immune system.
The Take-Home Message
Swollen gums indicate a condition that needs to be taken seriously and diagnosed as soon as possible so treatment can be delivered in a timely manner to prevent advanced periodontal disease or the worsening of another medical condition. Fortunately, prevention is easy by following good oral health and lifestyle practices.
At NK Family Dental, it is our mission to provide the highest quality and most compassionate oral care to our Chicago patients, including both dental and periodontal services. Our practice is trusted for advanced oral surgery procedures and comfortable root canal treatment.
Our team of experienced, dedicated dental professionals will help address your oral health concerns, and determine the best solution for you based on your individual situation. We strive to identify treatment options that fit your needs.
Our dental specialists include our general dentist, Dr. Nilofer Khan, our endodontist, Dr. Sabek, and our periodontist, Dr. Amir Danesh. Dr. Danesh is a board-certified periodontist and Diplomat of the American Board of Periodontology. He has contributed to the publication of two books, as well as published over 20 papers in prestigious dental research journals.
We understand that the main concern you may have is cost, which is why we accept all major PPO plans for dental insurance and also offer our in-house dental plan. Please see our financing page for more information.