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5 Causes of Gum Pain and Finding Relief

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Last updated October 29, 2020

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Gum pain can also be associated with symptoms like bleeding gums, pain with chewing, or swelling of the gums. Reasons for why your gums may hurt could arise from inflammation of the gums, also known as gingivitis. Other causes of gum pain include dental irritations from brushing, flossing, or dental procedures. infectious causes from dental or soft tissue conditions. Painful gum can also arise from oral herpes and cold sores. Read below for more causes and how to treat for gum pain relief.

Gum pain questionnaire

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Common gum pain symptoms

Painful gums are most commonly due to inflammation of the gums or gingiva. This condition is known as gingivitis. The most common cause of gingivitis is buildup of bacteria on the teeth and gums, which is called plaque. However dental infections, mouth infections and other medical illnesses are all causes of painful gums. Some causes of gum pain can be treated at home. Good dental hygiene (brushing and flossing) as well as regular dental visits help prevent gingivitis. Other causes of gum pain, particularly infectious causes, may require treatment by a dentist or doctor.

Common accompanying symptoms of gum pain

Symptoms that can be associated with gum pain include:

What causes sore gums

The most common cause of gum pain is inflammation of the gums or gingivitis. One of the most common causes of gingivitis is the buildup of bacteria (called plaque) on the teeth and gums leading to irritation and pain. Other causes of gingivitis include mechanical irritation, medications, nutritional deficiencies or other systemic illnesses. Infections in the teeth or mouth can also lead to gum pain symptoms. Some infections in the back of the mouth can cause pain as well as life-threatening swelling and require emergency medical treatment. Headache, dysfunction in the jaw joint, or nerve dysfunction in the face are other possible causes of gum pain.

Gingivitis (inflammation of the gums)

Gingivitis is one possible cause of gum pain.

  • Plaque buildup: Plaque is buildup of bacteria that occurs on the teeth and the gums. In some cases, the bacteria and the immune response to the bacteria can cause irritation and inflammation to the gums.
  • Mechanical irritation: Irritation from brushing, flossing, or dental procedures can lead to inflammation of the gums and cause gum pain symptoms.
  • Medications: Certain medications can cause enlargement of the gums which can lead to plaque buildup, irritation, pain, or bleeding. Calcium channel blockers, a common blood pressure medication, phenytoin (Dilantin) and cyclosporine, an immunosuppressant, may cause gum pain symptoms.
  • Systemic conditions: Some chronic medical conditions including diabetes, vitamin deficiency, immunodeficiency disorders, or genetic disorders are associated with gingivitis.
  • Pregnancy: Hormonal fluctuations in pregnancy can lead to gingivitis and cause painful gums.

Gum pain questionnaire

Use our free symptom checker to find out what's causing your pain.

Gum pain symptom checker

Infectious causes

Gum pain may be the result of different infections.

  • Dental infection: Plaque buildup on the surface of the tooth can erode into the tooth and cause infection in the tooth itself. Plaque can also get into the space between the tooth and the gum, leading to infections of the gums and tissue and bone that underlie the gums.
  • Soft tissue infections: The soft tissue below the tongue and in the back of the mouth can become infected and may be accompanied by gum or tooth pain. These infections can occasionally cause life-threatening swelling to the airway leading to stridorous or wheezy breathing and respiratory distress and may require emergency medical treatment.
  • Sinus infection: Sinus infections may cause referred pain to the mouth, teeth, or gums.

Other causes

Other various causes of gum pain may include the following.

  • Headache: Headaches, particularly migraines, might present with gum pain or tooth pain.
  • Joint dysfunction: The jaw joint can become inflamed and lead to pain in the teeth, gums, or jaw. This pain is often present with chewing or biting.
  • Nerve dysfunction: Dysfunction to the nerves that supply the face can cause pain to gums, teeth or jaw. This pain is typically shooting and present only on one side of the face.

This list does not constitute medical advice and may not accurately represent what you have.


Gingivitis is the inflammation of the gums. It is typically caused by poor dental hygiene and the buildup of bacteria. Its hallmark symptoms are swollen, discolored, bleeding gums. The main risk factors for the development of the disease are increasing age, smoking, and dry mouth. It is both treatable and ..

Oral herpes

Herpetic stomatitis is a viral infection of the mouth that causes fever and red and inflamed gums. This typically happens early in childhood.

Rarity: Rare

Top Symptoms: fever, gum pain, painful mouth sore, gum swelling, gum redness

Symptoms that always occur with oral herpes: gum pain

Urgency: Self-treatment

Cold sore

A cold sore is a skin lesion on the lips caused by infection with the herpes simplex virus (HSV). Cold sores are extremely common. In fact, most adults are infected with HSV, usually transmitted in childhood by normal close contact with parents, siblings or friends.

While the infection can be entirely unnoti..

Acute necrotizing ulcerative gingivitis (anug)

Acute necrotizing ulcerative gingivitis (ANUG) is a relatively rare infection of the gums. It's also known as "trench mouth", as it was discovered in a large number of soldiers in WWI that were stuck in trenches. The pain caused by ANUG is what makes it different from chronic periodontitis, and it requires treatment by professionals.

Rarity: Rare

Top Symptoms: bleeding gums, gum pain, chronically bad breath, severe mouth pain, gum swelling

Urgency: In-person visit

Dry socket (postextraction alveolar osteitis)

Dry socket (or postextraction alveolar osteitis) is a common cause of severe pain after a dental extraction (tooth pull). It's known to be related to how the extraction was done, menstrual cycle, tobacco smoking, age, sex, and whether you have had an extraction before.

Rarity: Ultra rare

Top Symptoms: constant mouth pain, chronically bad breath, changed sense of taste, severe mouth pain, mouth pain at the site of a dental procedure

Symptoms that always occur with dry socket (postextraction alveolar osteitis): mouth pain at the site of a dental procedure, constant mouth pain

Urgency: Hospital emergency room

Treatments for painful, swollen gums

When it is an emergency

Seek emergency gum pain treatment if:

  • You have significant swelling in the mouth that may compromise breathing
  • You are unable to open your mouth

At-home treatments

The following remedies for gum pain can be tried at home.

  • Brushing and flossing: Regular brushing with toothpaste that contains fluoride and regular dental flossing are the best ways to prevent plaque buildup and dental infection.
  • Antiseptic mouth rinse: People who have had dental infections or gingivitis in the past should use antimicrobial mouth rinses like chlorhexidine to prevent recurrence.
  • Smoking cessation: Smoking tobacco can contribute to plaque buildup and dental infections.
  • Avoidance of sugar-rich food and drink: Consuming sugary foods and drinks can contribute to plaque buildup and dental infections.

Medical treatments

Medical or professional treatments for gum pain include the following.

  • Regular dental visits: Regular visits to a dentist for hygiene are important for prevention of gingivitis, plaque buildup, and dental infections.
  • Antibiotics: If a dental infection is causing gum pain, a doctor or dentist may prescribe antibiotics to treat the infection.
  • Drainage or tissue removal: If a mouth infection is causing gum pain, a doctor or dentist may need to drain the infection with a needle or remove infected tissue from the area.
  • Tooth removal: In some cases, infected teeth need to be removed by a doctor or dentist.
  • Medications: If a doctor suspects gum irritation and pain due to medications, they may change your prescription. Do not stop or change your medications without consulting a doctor. If a doctor suspects your gum pain is due to an underlying illness, they may prescribe medications to treat the underlying cause.

Gum pain questionnaire

Use our free symptom checker to find out what's causing your pain.

Gum pain symptom checker

FAQs about gum pain

Can cavities cause gum pain?

Yes. Cavities, especially if they penetrate the root of the tooth, can cause gum pain along the gum just below the affected tooth. Usually, the pain is so severe that it is often results in dental care prior to the development of gum pain, but if it is not, the nerve will die, the tooth may fall out, and the infection can often track down into the gum.

Why do my gums hurt in one spot?

Gums may hurt in one spot if you have a sore anywhere along the gums. This can occur from consumption of hard or sharp foods, a gum abscess, or from an infection trapped within the gums. Food trapped between teeth can also exert pressure upon the gums, and if not removed by flossing, it can cause pain in the gums.

Why are my gums bleeding and painful?

Bleeding, swollen, or painful gums can be a sign of early periodontal disease or periodontitis. Inflammation can cause a loss of supportive connective tissue or bone and disconnection of teeth from gums. It may cause bleeding upon brushing or probing and increased tooth mobility as well as increased systemic illness from bacteria in the mouth entering the blood streams.

Why do I have pain in the gums between my teeth?

Buildup of food between the teeth can contribute significantly to pain and can be alleviated by regular flossing once or twice per day. Making sure that plaque and excess food debris is removed is very important for proper dental health and hygiene. Daily flossing in addition to brushing is recommended.

Can bleeding gums become infected?

Yes, bleeding gums can become infected and often are exposed to different bacteria on the food that we eat. Gums that are inflamed and bleed on probing may have early stage periodontal disease which is often caused by bacterial colonization of teeth and consumption of foods that promote bacterial growth without adequate hygiene.

Questions your doctor may ask about gum pain

  • Where specifically is your mouth pain?
  • Have you ever been diagnosed with HIV or AIDS?
  • Have you ever been diagnosed with cancer?
  • Any fever today or during the last week?

Self-diagnose with our free Buoy Assistant if you answer yes on any of these questions.

Hear what 1 other is saying
Gum IrrirtationPosted January 9, 2020 by A.
I started having irritation around my upper gums and hard palet around 3 months ago, along with the irritation I started having a foul taste in my mouth but no odor. Had Dentist, Periodontist, Dermatologist,family Physician, ENT doctor look at it but no definite diagnosis. I am perplexed as to why I am experiencing this.

Dr. Martin is an Emergency Medicine resident at the University of Washington in Seattle. She received her undergraduate degree from Stanford University where she majored in Human Biology, and received her MD from the University of Pennsylvania. She’s interested in Emergency Medical Services and Flight Medicine, and is currently a resident flight physician with Airlift Northwest. In her free time, she enjoys playing ultimate frisbee, cycling, rock climbing, and trail running!

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