As a clinician, I see patients who complain of a "toothache" all the time. And although the tooth itself is sometimes the source of the problem, more often the real culprit is the gum tissue. But who's ever heard of a "gum ache"?
Sore gums are a problem all ages of people can experience, and for various reasons. The first step in identifying the source of your own pain is to recognize some of the most common explanations dental professionals have for this irritation.
Why Gums Get Sore
There are many reasons soreness can occur in your gums – not just periodontal disease. Brushing and flossing with too much pressure are both habits that can cause aching gums. In addition, eating things like crunchy cereal, chips or hot dishes can irritate your gums and cause discomfort because of the abrasions or burns that result. And sometimes, when people consume a diet with too few vitamins, or experience a high level of stress, their gums can respond in the same way.
Of course, bacteria is still considered the leading cause of gum pain. Your gums contour around your teeth and protect the small rubber-band-like fibers that attach your teeth to your bone. Inside this little cuff of gums where they meet your teeth is a tiny space where germs love to grow. As this space quickly fills with bacteria, it can lead to gingivitis and periodontitis, which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states are both linked to these germs. Gum disease is most often experienced by adults and is more common in men.
How Inflamed Gums Look
Painful gums often appear red, purple, ulcerated or puffy. Tender gums, on the other hand, often bleed when you brush your teeth. If tender gums are left untreated, the attachment of the teeth to the bone can wear away, causing the tooth to come loose or even fall out.
In other cases of sore gums, visual mouth sores can appear on the inside of the gums and cheeks. Sometimes these mouth sores are called canker sores, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and even dental professionals do not clearly understand these painful lesions. Some suspected causes of canker sores include allergies, changes in food habits, vitamin deficiencies and stress.
When It's Normal
When baby teeth erupt through the gums, they can be quite uncomfortable. This usually occurs between the ages of four months and three years, as well as the ages of five and 14. It may also occur as a result of new orthodontic appliances as teeth begin to realign.
Persistent gum tissue pain is not normal among adults, however, so if your gums do hurt, contact a dental professional to identify and reverse the cause of your discomfort. In addition, regular visits to a dental professional can keep the progression of this swelling from reaching a more serious gum disease called periodontitis.
How You Can Repair Them
Your first defense against sore gums is establishing a strong oral care habit that includes products to reduce and remove the growth of germs. Toothpastes like Colgate Total® Advanced Deep Clean have germ-killers that have been proven effective at this purpose, and oral rinses such as Colgate Total® Daily Repair can also assist in the healing process if you already have early signs of periodontal damage.
Although overzealous technique can cause irritation, brushing and flossing are still absolutely necessary. Routine tooth brushing and flossing to remove germs mechanically effectively decreases plaque in the mouth, especially in areas along the gumline. Plaque (also called a biofilm) is a sticky, often invisible mixture found on the surface of your teeth, and is made up of bacteria, leftover food and waste that the germs produce as they feed on oral debris. This combination, when left stuck along your gumline, can result in painful gums. And the longer you wait to remove it, the more time it has to damage your teeth and surrounding tissue.
Advanced forms of gum disease are treatable conditions, but they're not always the cause of the pain. By avoiding tobacco products, eating a nutrient-rich diet, watching your stress and getting plenty of sleep each night, you can reduce your risk of experiencing sore gums. Your dental professional can also assist you in identifying risks you may not realize you carry, allowing you to participate in a treatment plan that specifically addresses your irritation.