The Most Common Reasons for Your Gum Pain

The Most Common Reasons for Your Gum Pain
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The Most Common Reasons for Your Gum PainClinical Content Reviewed by Dr. Jay Khorsandi, DDS
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Table of Contents

  1. Gum Pain: Does This Mean Gum Disease?
  2. Most Common Causes
  3. Health Conditions That Might Cause Gum Pain
  4. Mangement at Home
  5. References
Gum disease is a serious problem, but not all sources of gum pain mean you have gum disease. For example, using the wrong toothbrush, flossing too hard, or eating crunchy or hard snacks can all cause your gums to hurt. Other underlying health conditions can cause gum pain too.

Gum Pain: Does This Mean Gum Disease?

Everyone experiences some pain in their gums once in a while, but this sensation can still be startling when it happens. If this pain continues or occurs more than once, you may worry about your oral health.

How do you know when gum pain is caused by something you can manage, which is temporary, or if it is caused by something more serious? Does gum pain always need medical treatment from your dentist?
Gum pain can be startling, but fortunately, there are several common causes of this condition that are relatively easy to manage. There are some specific signs of gum disease, or periodontal disease, which you must be aware of. Periodontal disease often starts with few, mild symptoms that are easy to ignore. This condition can lead to serious problems if you do not get routine checkups. Knowing the difference between periodontal disease and other causes of gum pain can help you make the best possible oral health choices.

Most Common Causes of Gum Pain

You may experience gum pain for several reasons, many of which are easy to manage or treat at home. Here are some of the most common causes of gum pain:

  • Brushing too hard: One of the most common causes of gum pain occurs because you accidentally irritate your gums while you brush your teeth. You might apply too much pressure, brush for too long, or use a toothbrush with bristles that are too stiff. Brushing like this regularly can lead to gum recession, which can increase your risk of other problems with oral hygiene, including infection. Practice brushing your teeth with slower, gentler strokes, without applying much pressure. You should also get a toothbrush with soft bristles, and even consider getting a toothbrush designed for sensitive gums. You might prefer to switch to an electric toothbrush, which can reduce your risk of brushing too hard.
  • Irritation from food: Crunchy food is very satisfying, but sometimes, these foods can hurt your mouth. Chips or popcorn, in particular, can create small shards of food that get stuck between your teeth or that hit your gums, causing irritation. You might notice irritation or pain when a shard hits your gums, or you might notice some sensitivity or pain later when you brush your teeth. After you eat crunchy snack food, rinse your mouth out with water before brushing your teeth. This can help dislodge particles that might hurt. Chew every chip or kernel well; savoring your snack can reduce the risk of shards hurting your gums and mouth. You might also experience some irritation after eating very sweet or acidic foods. Limiting your consumption of these snacks can protect your oral health by reducing the wear and tear on your enamel.
  • Irritation from dental floss or other appliances: If your gums have ever bled after brushing or flossing, you know that dental hygiene appliances can irritate your mouth by accident. If you frequently experience bleeding, painful gums after flossing, consider getting interdental brushes instead. These can clean out between your teeth more thoroughly. They come in a variety of sizes to help you manage even the tightest spaces between teeth, and they have soft bristles that are less likely to puncture your gums. You might also try a thinner type of dental floss. Large waxed dental floss can be harder to get between your teeth, and the added pressure might make you accidentally hurt your gums.
  • Hormonal changes: Everyone’s hormone levels change throughout the course of their lives, but sometimes, these fluctuations can lead to an increase in blood flow to the gums, which in turn makes them more sensitive. This might lead to more pain from regular activities like eating, drinking, and brushing your teeth. Puberty, pregnancy, and aging are all natural causes of hormone fluctuations. Many people also take prescription medications that change how their body produces or responds to hormones.
  • Family history: Some people are genetically predisposed to have more sensitive gums. If you have always struggled with sensitivity to the temperature of food, bleeding gums from routine brushing or flossing, or similar scenarios, you might experience gum sensitivity and pain more often than others. Toothpaste, toothbrushes, and mouthwash for sensitive gums can help reduce sensitivity. Getting regular dentist checkups to manage potential gingivitis can rule out underlying infection.

These causes of pain, sensitivity, or bleeding in your gums do not necessarily need attention from your dentist. However, it is possible that your gums are more sensitive because of an underlying health issue, which brushing too hard, hormonal changes, or even accidentally scraping your gums can make worse. Some health conditions need treatment from your dentist, while others might benefit more from treatment with a general practitioner.

Health Conditions That Might Cause Gum Pain

Sometimes, underlying health issues cause gum pain. This might be one of the first signs of a chronic health problem, or it could be that your gums feel more sensitive or painful despite treatment. Here are some issues that might lead to pain in your mouth or gums:

  • Canker sores: Small, painful sores that appear inside the mouth around the lips, gums, or tongue can hurt very badly. These are canker sores, or aphthous ulcers. Unlike oral herpes, which can also cause sores around the mouth, canker sores are not infectious and do not spread through saliva or oral contact. They may take several days to go away on their own.
  • Sinus infections or allergies: Often, sinus infections or allergies can clog up your nose and cause headaches or blurry vision. However, the muscle stress and pressure on the sinuses can impact other parts of the face. This might include causing pain in the gums.
  • Vitamin deficiency: A lack of vitamins K or C, or medical conditions like anemia, can put you at more risk of sensitive gums, bleeding gums, pain in the gums or mouth, and other dental issues.
  • Underlying conditions: Heart disease, diabetes, viral infections like shingles or herpes, nerve-related diseases, and alcohol or drug abuse can all lead to irritation, bleeding, swelling, and/or pain in the gums.

Your dentist can recommend some help or relief if these conditions cause pain in your mouth or gums. Your regular doctor can also help with allergies or sinus infections, especially if these routinely bother you.

If you prefer managing symptoms at home or finding ways to alleviate pain, there are also several options for supporting your oral health. However, be aware of symptoms of gum infection that might lead to gingivitis, which requires treatment by a dentist.

Management at Home

If you have symptoms of gingivitis or periodontitis, it is very important to get help from your dentist. Regular dentist visits can detect gum disease and reduce your risk with cleaning and treatment, but you can also take some preventative steps at home. Additionally, if you develop some gum pain or sensitivity, you can manage that at home. But do not delay regular visits to your dentist.

Using various rinses at home can relieve some gum pain. Homemade mouthwashes that might help include the following:

  • Warm saltwater rinses
  • Peppermint tea, including applying a steeped tea bag at the site of the pain
  • Herbal oils like cloves or thyme
  • Crushed garlic

If gum pain persists or returns — or is associated with other symptoms like chronic bad breath, red, swollen, or tender gums, painful chewing, loose teeth, sensitive teeth, or receding gums — you may be developing periodontal disease. Regular visits to the dentist can help to spot these problems, but if you notice them between visits, ask for a checkup.

Home remedies can help and not all gum pain means infection, but do not delay appropriate dental treatment.

General References

Gum Disease. Mouth Healthy, from the American Dental Association (ADA).

Periodontal (Gum) Disease. (July 2018). National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR).

Brushing Your Teeth. Mouth Healthy, from the American Dental Association (ADA).

11 Foods You Didn’t Realize Were Hurting Your Gums. (January 2017). Bustle.

Hormones and Dental Health: What Every Woman Needs to Know. Mouth Healthy, from the American Dental Association (ADA).

Toothache and Gum Problems. (February 2020). Michigan Medicine, University of Michigan Health.

Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Canker Sores. (February 2019). Cedars Sinai.

Medical References

Rinsing With Saline Promotes Human Gingival Fibroblast Wound Healing In Vitro. (July 2016). PLOS ONE.

Herbal Mouthwashes – A Gift of Nature. (April 2012). ResearchGate.

Disclaimer: This article is intended to promote understanding of and knowledge about general oral health topics. It is not intended to serve as dental or other professional health advice and is not intended to be used for diagnosis or treatment of any condition or symptom. You should consult a dentist or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment.