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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 gum pain or swelling, 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 problems are the culprit in many cases, sensitive gums can be a symptom of other oral irritants, too.

Symptoms of Gum Pain and Sensitivity

Swelling, tenderness and gum pain are often signs of gum problems, 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 gum problems, 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) – gum problems are 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 problems, 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 that allow you to focus on brushing more gently. Massage your gums in back and forth motions rather than brush harshly to remove germs 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 gum pain and sensitivity as well. Gums become more sensitive, according to the South African Dental Association (SADA), because hormone fluctuations – such as those common during pregnancy – can change the way your body interacts with the germs you introduce to your mouth. This can result in gum and tooth problems, 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 lead to gum pain and sensitivity, respectively. Acidic foods, in particular, can cause sensitivity 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 gum line, 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 problems are 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 gum problems, consider some of the other causes – you might be surprised at which of your habits could be causing gum pain.

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