Swollen Gums: Possible Causes and Treatments

In many instances, swollen and bleeding gums are a sign of gum disease. However, there are a number of other things that could be causing your gum problems. Whatever the cause of sore, painful gums, there are steps you can take to minimize gum damage and discomfort.

What causes swollen gums?


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 hardened 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

Brushing Technique

In the quest to keep teeth clean, you might be tempted to brush teeth as vigorously as you can. Gums are made of delicate tissue, though, so brushing the wrong way could damage them.

Whether you opt for a manual or electric toothbrush, choose one with soft nylon bristles that have blunted ends. Even though you can find brushes with medium or hard bristles, they may damage the enamel on your teeth or cause red and swollen gums.

When you brush, make sure you use gentle, circular motions to massage and clean the teeth and gums. While many people use a back-and-forth motion, this motion can irritate and damage your gums, making them sore and more likely to bleed or recede

Flossing Technique

We all know the importance of flossing every day to help remove plaque from places where your toothbrush can’t reach. To make sure that your healthy habit isn’t causing swollen or bleeding gums, be gentle when you floss. Rather than forcing the floss between your teeth, carefully slide it up and down, following the curve of each tooth.

Home remedies

The following home remedies can help reduce gum inflammation and improve gum health.

Antiseptic mouthwash

Antiseptic mouthwash cannot remove existing plaque and tartar, but it can help control the buildup of additional plaque bacteria.

Mouthwash is available over the counter (OTC) at drugstores and pharmacies. Look for brands containing ingredients with strong antiseptic properties, such as cetylpyridinium chloride.

Sometimes, dentists may prescribe an antiseptic mouthwash containing chlorhexidine, which research suggests is the most effective ingredient.

Saltwater rinse

A 2016 study investigated the effects of a saltwater rinse on gum wound healing.

For this study, researchers removed the gingival fibroblast cells from donors’ teeth. These cells make up the connective tissues of the teeth.

After isolating the damaged cells, the researchers rinsed them in a saltwater solution for 2 minutes, three times per day.

They found that saltwater solutions with a concentration of 1.8% were most effective in improving the rate of wound healing.

People can make an effective saltwater solution by dissolving a level teaspoon of salt in a cup of cooled boiled water. They can rinse with the solution three to four times a day.

Herbal rinse

A 2014 study investigated the antiplaque and antigingivitis effects of an herbal mouth rinse containing tea tree oil, clove, and basil. These ingredients have antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties.

The researchers divided the 40 participants into two groups. One group used a commercially available mouth rinse for 21 days, while the other group used the herbal mouth rinse.

The results of the herbal rinse were comparable to those of the commercial rinse. Participants in both groups showed improvements in various measures of gum health, including reduced plaque and gum inflammation.


Pain relievers, such as ibuprofen, can help reduce gum pain while a person undergoes treatment for dental abscesses or periodontal disease.

Medical treatment

People can speak to their dentist about the following medical treatments:

Tooth scaling and polishing

Professional tooth cleaning removes tartar from the teeth, which can help reverse gingivitis.

During the cleaning, the dental hygienist uses special instruments to scrape off the tartar. They then smooth and polish the surface of the tooth to help prevent future plaque accumulation.

Root planing

Root planing is a deep cleaning procedure that removes plaque and tartar from the roots of teeth. Dentists may refer to this removal as scaling or debridement.

People who undergo this procedure will often receive a local anesthetic.


Oral antibiotics are usually effective in treating dental abscesses. A person must also undergo dental treatment to address the cause of the abscess.

Sometimes, the infection may already have spread to other parts of the body. In very severe cases, a person may need to stay in the hospital and receive intravenous antibiotics.

Incision and drainage

In some cases, a dentist may need to make an incision in the abscess to remove the infected pus.

After drainage, the dentist will flush the area with saline. Other treatments may also be necessary.

Root canal

A root canal is a dental procedure that involves removing bacteria from the infected tooth roots.

The dentist accesses the tooth roots via the crown, which is the visible part of the tooth. They then clean and fill the roots and crown. Some people may need an artificial crown to protect and restore the tooth.

Tooth extraction

Occasionally, a dentist may need to remove the infected tooth. This procedure will require local anesthesia.





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