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Your gums are very important to your oral health. The gums are made of firm, pink tissue that covers your jawbones. This tissue is thick, fibrous, and full of blood vessels.
If your gums become swollen, they may protrude, or bulge out. Swelling in your gums usually begins where the gum meets the tooth. Your gums may become so swollen, however, that they begin to hide parts of your teeth. Swollen gums appear red instead of their normal pink color.
Swollen gums, also called gingival swelling, are often irritated, sensitive, or painful. You may also notice that your gums bleed more easily when brushing or flossing your teeth.
Gingivitis is the most common cause of swollen gums. It’s a gum disease that causes your gums to become irritated and swollen. Many people don’t know they have gingivitis because the symptoms can be quite mild. However, if it’s left untreated, gingivitis can eventually lead to a much more serious condition called "periodontitis" and possible tooth loss.
Gingivitis is most often the result of poor oral hygiene, which allows plaque to build up on the gum line and teeth. Plaque is a film composed of bacteria and food particles deposited on the teeth over time. If plaque remains on the teeth for more than a few days, it becomes tartar. Tartar is harder than plaque. You usually can’t remove it with flossing and brushing alone. This is when you need to see a dental professional. Tartar buildup can lead to gingivitis.
Swollen gums can also occur during pregnancy. The rush of hormones your body produces during pregnancy may increase the blood flow in your gums. This increase in blood flow can cause your gums to be more easily irritated, leading to swelling. These hormonal changes can also hinder your body’s ability to fight off bacteria that typically cause gum infections. This can increase your chance of developing gingivitis.
Being deficient in vitamins, especially vitamins B and C, can cause gum swelling. Vitamin C, for example, plays an important role in the maintenance and repair of your teeth and gums. If your vitamin C levels drop too low, you could develop scurvy. Scurvy can cause anemia and gum disease. In developed nations, malnutrition is uncommon. When it’s present, it’s most often seen in older adults.
Infections caused by fungi and viruses can potentially cause swollen gums. If you have herpes, it could lead to a condition called "acute herpetic gingivostomatitis," which causes swollen gums. Thrush, which is the result of an overgrowth of naturally occurring yeast in the mouth, can also cause gum swelling. Untreated dental decay can lead to a dental abscess, which is localized gum swelling.
If your gums are swollen for more than two weeks, you should talk to your dentist. Your dentist will ask questions about when your symptoms began and how often they occur. Full mouth dental X-rays may be needed. They’ll also want to know if you’re pregnant or if you’ve had any recent changes in your diet. They may order blood tests to check for an infection.
Depending on the cause of your swollen gums, your dentist may prescribe oral rinses that help prevent gingivitis and reduce plaque. Your dentist may also recommend that you use a specific brand of toothpaste. In some cases, antibiotics may be necessary.
If you have an extreme case of gingivitis, you may need surgery. One common treatment option is scaling and root planing. This is a procedure in which the dentist scrapes away diseased gums, dental plaque, and calculus, or tartar, on the roots of the teeth to allow the remaining gums to heal.
Treat swollen gums with care. Soothe your gums by brushing and flossing gently, so you don’t irritate your gums. Rinse your mouth with a saltwater solution to rid your mouth of bacteria and drink lots of water. Water will also help stimulate the production of saliva, which kills disease-causing bacteria in the mouth.
Avoid irritants, including strong mouthwashes, alcohol, and tobacco.
Place a warm compress over your face to lessen gum pain. A cold compress can help decrease swelling.
There are some preventive measures you can take to avoid this condition, including maintaining proper oral care and eating healthy foods.
Brush and floss regularly, especially after meals. Visit your dentist at least once every six months for a cleaning. If you have dry mouth, which can increase the risk of plaque and tartar buildup, talk to your doctor about mouthwashes and toothpaste that may help with this condition.
Getting enough calcium, vitamin C, and folic acid can help ensure that you don’t develop swollen gums. People who don’t get enough calcium on a daily basis are more likely to develop gum diseases. Vitamin C and folic acid are important for preventing gingivitis and maintaining healthy gums.
Written by: Carmella Wint
Medically reviewed on: Mar 15, 2016: Christine A. Frank, DDS
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