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Sensitive Gums? Three Surprising Causes

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The gums are often a neglected part of your oral health routine. Although you may brush regularly and see your dentist for scheduled checkups, your teeth usually steal the show. Even when you notice your gums are sore or swollen, you might mistake the pain for a cavity. But gum health is extremely important, and should be made a top priority when caring for your oral health. After all, this tissue is trusted to protect your teeth and keep them healthy, and while periodontal disease is the culprit in many cases, sensitive gums can be a symptom of other oral irritants, too.

Symptoms of Gum Sensitivity

Swelling and tenderness are often signs of gingivitis, but it's not the only condition that can leave your gums feeling less than robust. It's understandable to assume tender gums are the result of gingivitis, but this isn't always the case. When your gums become sensitive to hot and cold – or inflamed and sore after applying moderate pressure (when brushing your teeth, for example) – gingivitis is just one of the possible causes. Consider your symptoms to see if it's the result of one of the following surprising causes of sensitive gums:

1. Brushing Too Hard

Some individuals' gums can be sensitive to pressure, particularly when suffering from gum disease, so brushing too hard or using a highly abrasive toothpaste can leave them feeling irritable. You don't need a stiff toothbrush to get a great clean; rather, it's about technique. Consider a soft-bristled toothbrush, which uses softer bristles and polishing cups that allow you to focus on brushing more gently. Massage your gums in back and forth motions rather than brush harshly to remove bacteria that may have already calcified into tartar (which needs dental assistance). And, if you do notice your toothpaste irritates your gums, consider one made specifically for sensitive mouths.

2. Hormonal Changes

Believe it or not, changes in your hormones can actually result in sensitive gums as well. Gums become more sensitive, according to the American Dental Association (ADA) , because hormone fluctuations – such as those common during pregnancy – can change the way your body interacts with the bacteria you introduce to your mouth. This can result in gum and tooth decay, so it's important to see your dentist as scheduled during pregnancy, and mention any changes in oral health to your OB/GYN to avoid lasting damage.

3. Food or Appliance Irritation

Certain acidic foods and new oral appliances can leave your gums feeling sensitive and sore, respectively. Acidic foods, in particular, can cause irritation and even visible sores on the tender tissue of the gumline. Canker sores and even gums that are recessed can be an unfortunate side-effect to consuming things like citrus fruit, soda and sugary brands of yogurt in excess. Therefore, try eliminating acidic foods from your diet, and see if your sensitivity goes away over the next few days. The same goes for oral appliances: Braces , retainers, dentures and mouth guards can all tug at your gumline, leaving it extra tender if they've temporarily exposed more sensitive underlying tissue. In some cases, this sensitivity will go away as your mouth adapts to the appliance. If your gums continue to hurt, however, see your dentist or orthodontist to ensure the right fit with less sensitivity.

Gum disease is often the reason for periodontal soreness, but it's not always the reason for your sensitivity. Gums that are sensitive without bleeding might be trying to tell you a different story. Before attributing the pain to gingivitis, consider some of the other causes – you might be surprised at which of your habits could be causing sore gums.