The Nine Most Common Causes of Gum Pain

There are a number of different causes of gum pain, but most can be placed within the nine categories addressed here. Almost everyone experiences pain or soreness in their gums at one time or another. Most of the time the pain or soreness is of a temporary nature and is not usually a cause of concern. Sometimes, when you experience sore or painful gums, the pain is due to a problem that you have brought upon yourself and could have been avoided. At other times, the cause of the pain is something that is beyond your control. By and large however, painful gums are often preventable as long as you take the time to take care of your teeth, mouth, and gums. In other words, your lifestyle, including your hygienic practices, can have a great deal to do with what goes on inside your mouth.

Nine Causes of Gum Pain to Avoid or Learn How to Manage

1) Aggressive Brushing or Flossing

Taking good care of one’s teeth involves, among other things, brushing them often and properly. When it comes to brushing your teeth however, more often may be better but more aggressively is not. Your teeth can stand frequent and aggressive brushing, although if you get into the habit of doing so, you can’t expect your toothbrushes to last as long as they otherwise might. What overly aggressive brushing can do however, besides causing wear and tear on your toothbrush, is to damage your gums (referred medically to as gingivae).

If you haven’t had any previous problems with sore or painful gums, you’re apt to think of them as being every bit as strong as your skin, if not stronger. In truth, your gingivae comprise somewhat delicate tissue and can easily be damaged, especially by a toothbrush that has fairly stiff bristles. If you brush properly, soft bristles will usually clean your teeth as well as hard bristles can, especially if you use an electric toothbrush. Once any plaque that has formed on your teeth has begun to harden and form tartar, even the most aggressive brushing is unlikely to remove it.

The same is true with flossing. You may be flossing your teeth with the idea you are cleaning them. That is true, but only to a certain extent. There are two reasons for flossing. One is to prevent decay and gum disease by removing food particles that otherwise might accumulate and harbor bacteria. The second reason is to massage your gums. Massaging them helps to keep the blood circulating underneath their surfaces as it should. Just remember to use less tension on the dental floss when massaging them than when you’re attempting to remove a lodged piece of food. If, after brushing or flossing, you spit out some blood, you’re likely doing one or the other a bit too aggressively. If spitting out blood is something that is occurring frequently, you may have gum disease in which case it would be advisable to see your dentist.

2) Gum Disease

Gum disease is not all that uncommon, although it is something you should not have to experience when you practice proper dental hygiene. The good news about gum disease is that it is normally both easily treatable and curable. The bad news is that if it is neglected and left untreated, your mouth and gingivae can eventually become a constant source of pain and discomfort.

There are two main types of gum disease: mild and severe. The mild type is called gingivitis and the more severe type is called periodontitis. One leads to the other. Inadequate dental hygiene practice can cause gingivitis to develop. Gingivitis is an inflammation of the gums or gingival tissues. Gingivitis does not always cause pain or soreness; in fact, it seldom does in its early stages. The constant irritation and inflammation of the gingivae caused by gingivitis will eventually lead to discomfort however. One of the more common symptoms of gingivitis is bleeding gums, which should serve as a warning signal. There are two excellent ways to prevent gingivitis from occurring. One of them is to practice good dental hygiene. That is the best way. The other is to visit your dentist at least once or twice a year. Your dentist can easily tell if you have gingivitis and can tell you what to do about it, which sometimes means a lifestyle change of one kind or another on your part, such as foregoing soda pop and other sugary foods.

The truth is that if you have gingivitis and it is allowed to develop into periodontitis, you will have a problem. The painful gums you are then likely to experience may only be the tip of the iceberg. The difference between gingivitis and periodontitis is that the former consists of inflammation on the surface of the gums while the latter goes deeper into the gums and can begin to inflame and infect the roots of the teeth as well as the bones the teeth are attached to. Two of the more severe symptoms of periodontitis are a loss of teeth and a loss of bone as well. Unless you are stranded on a desert island with nothing to eat and drink but sweet pastries and soda pop and you do not have a toothbrush with you, both gingivitis and periodontitis are easily preventable gum diseases.

3) Small Injuries or Irritation

If your gums become scratched, by a small but sharp bit of food, for example, you may well feel a certain amount of pain or tenderness. There are numerous small blood vessels and nerve endings in the gingivae. Because of these nerve endings, any pain due to a paper-thin cut or lesion, or even a tiny puncture, tends to be amplified, seemingly out of proportion. These small injuries or traumatic events are generally harmless and the pain will of course eventually subside. The only real danger you would face is if the injury were to become infected, although this is somewhat uncommon in healthy persons.

4) Changing Hormones

Painful gums due to changing hormones are normally only experienced by women. Hormones associated with pregnancy will sometimes cause a person’s gums to become swollen and inflamed, which is of course symptomatic of gingivitis. Pregnancy is one instance where gingivitis cannot always be avoided or at least avoided completely, but should it occur, its symptoms are generally mild and if proper care is given to the teeth and gingivae, the condition will not advance and will usually go away after delivery. It is important however that this particular cause of sore gums should not be allowed to advance, as it is believed that if the condition advances to the point where the gum disease becomes a case of periodontitis, it could prove harmful to the unborn baby.

The so-called pregnancy hormones can also cause one or more small nodules to develop on the gums. These nodules tend to bleed easily. They can be annoying and can even be frightening if you don’t know why they are suddenly present or what causes them. It can be especially troubling if someone tells you the nodules are pregnancy tumors, which unfortunately are an all-too-common name given to these nodules but fortunately a totally inaccurate one. These nodules are benign and usually go away following delivery.

5) Ill-Fitting Dentures

It will probably come as no surprise that ill-fitting dentures can often be a cause of sore gums. The negative effects dentures can have on gums, whether ill fitting or not, most often involve the lower jaw as it is at the bottom of the mouth where it is more difficult to keep dentures in place. Lower dentures can too easily be moved about by the tongue or the action of the jaw or facial muscles, while upper dentures have more of a tendency to stay in place. If the lower dentures do not fit well, the problem will likely be compounded.

6) Receding Gums

One of the more common causes of painful gums is gingival recession, the dental term for receding gums. Whether or not gingival recession will actually cause pain will vary, partly in response to the cause and to the manner in which the gums have receded. Receding gums are often a somewhat natural occurrence that tends to happen mostly in adults and the elderly, regardless of the lifestyle they have been leading.

There are many causes of receding gums that are not natural or related to heredity and are therefore preventable. Chewing tobacco can cause the gums to recede, along with other problems, which will be touched upon later. Bruxism or grinding of the teeth, inadequate brushing, and overaggressive brushing or flossing can be contributors. Piercings in the tongue or lips can cause gum tissue to wear away through constant contact. There are even some commercial toothpastes that contain compounds that can cause gums to recede, the most common being sodium lauryl sulfate, a cleansing detergent.

7) Tobacco Products

It doesn’t much matter whether you smoke or chew tobacco. Partaking in either method can cause painful gums, the only difference between the two being the problems caused by smokeless tobacco are generally much worse. Whether you puff or chew, there are cytotoxic chemicals in tobacco and tobacco smoke that are not kind to your gums. Cytotoxic chemicals are chemicals or substances that are destructive to the cells and tissues in your body.

Chewing tobacco can easily cause mouth sores, cracked lips, and bleeding gums, not to mention putting the user at a much higher risk of developing oral cancer. Chewing tobacco also contains sugar, a substance that is not all that kind to your teeth and gums. The nicotine in tobacco causes vasoconstriction or narrowing of the blood vessels in the gums. Any deficiency in the blood supply to the gums will do little in the way of keeping them healthy and will have a tendency to cause them to recede, opening the way to various gum problems, the least of which may be painful gums. Even second-hand smoke is now believed to contribute to gum disease.

8) Stress

While you might not think stress contributes to sore or painful gums, the exact opposite is often true. Your dentist can in fact often deduce your mental state of affairs by examining your teeth and the inside of your mouth. Stress can be a factor of temporomandibular disorders or TMD. TMD are characterized by jaw joint pain caused by grinding of the teeth or overuse of the jaw muscles. Grinding of your teeth can often contribute to painful gums, but stress can cause gum pain in other ways as well. There appears to be a definite relationship between stress and an increased risk of gum disease, with highly emotional people having the greatest risk of all while those who deal with their problems in a positive manner generally having a much lower risk of having gum problems.

9) Teething

Teething is the most common cause of gum pain in infants although it is usually a temporary, one-tooth-at-a-time condition. Some infants and small children experience more pain or soreness than others, some experience little discomfort at all, and almost all of them get through the teething process without problems. Adults can sometimes experience this type of discomfort if a tooth does not come through the gums as it should, or more likely with the appearance of the wisdom teeth. Impacted teeth are sometimes a cause of gum pain in both adults and adolescents.

Unless caused by genetics, you should generally be able to avoid having sore gums. In the event of injury to your gums by a sharp object or from ill-fitting dentures, the pain you may experience is not always avoidable but it is usually manageable and, given the right steps, temporary. The key to avoiding sore gums is nothing more than practicing good dental hygiene, which, as you can see from above, can involve much more than simply brushing your teeth.