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Gum Swelling: Possible Causes, Home Remedies, & When to See a Dentist

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Last updated October 29, 2020

Gum swelling quiz

Take a quiz to find out what's causing your swelling.

Gum swelling, often accompanied by bleeding gums and tenderness-to-touch, is most commonly caused by poor oral hygiene, pregnancy, infections. Plaque and tartar around the teeth and gums often cause gum inflammation and there are plenty of home remedies to treat. More serious causes should be seen by a doctor if the inflamed gums last for more than 2 weeks. Read below for all categories of causes and treatment options. We also prepared a free digital checker to help you narrow down gum swelling causes.

8 most common causes

Canker Sore
Dental Cavity
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Herpes simplex virus
Gingivitis
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Skin cyst
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Blood issue that needs further testing
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Melanoma of the mouth
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Infected wisdom tooth (pericoronitis)

Gum swelling quiz

Take a quiz to find out what's causing your swelling.

Take gum swelling quiz

Gum swelling symptoms

You probably do not think about your gums on a daily basis. At best, they get a second look when you smile in the mirror. Just like the rest of the body, however, they can be prone to issues. The mouth stays active throughout the day, so gum swelling symptoms are quickly noticed, but how to cure them may not be so obvious.

When we brush our teeth, the focus is often on keeping the teeth clean, but the gums are just as important to keep healthy. Gums help protect the mouth, and subsequently the body, from infection. Gum swelling symptoms could be a sign of gum issues and should not be ignored.

Common accompanying symptoms of gum swelling

If you're experiencing gum swelling, it's also likely to experience:

  • Red gums
  • Bad breath
  • Bad taste in the mouth
  • Gum bleeding
  • Gums that are tender to the touch

Gums are soft tissue that line the mouth, providing a tight seal around the teeth. Their most important function is protecting the deeper tissue in the mouth from a wide range of periodontal issues.

Gum swelling causes

There are only a few significant causes of gum swelling, but they are all notable. Sometimes a specific event is readily attributed to the swelling or maybe it was suddenly noticeable one morning.

Environmental causes

Environmental causes of gum swelling include the following.

  • Trauma: Significant impact to the mouth can result in gum swelling symptoms and bleeding.
  • Diet: A poor diet and malnutrition could result in swollen gums. Scurvy occurs from a severe deficiency of vitamin C.
  • Oral products: Gum swelling may be a product of what goes in the mouth. For example, poorly fitting dentures, reactions to toothpaste/mouthwash, and certain medicinal side effects.
  • Hormonal: Increased blood flow to the gums from hormonal changes can cause them to swell. This condition often occurs during pregnancy.
  • Oral hygiene: Not taking care of your mouth through brushing, flossing, and professional cleaning can lead to swelling.

Inflammatory causes

Inflammation can result in gum swelling due to the following.

  • Infections: Bacterial infections and ulcers in the gums often lead to swelling. The most common inflammatory infection is gingivitis.
  • Autoimmune: Autoimmune disorders cause dysfunction of the body in a variety of ways. For the gums, swelling can result from conditions related to dry mouth.

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

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

Gum swelling quiz

Take a quiz to find out what's causing your swelling.

Take gum swelling quiz

Severe cavity

Dental cavity requiring a root canal or tooth extraction.

You should go see your dentist as soon as possible. If this cavity worsens, it could cause an abscess (big infection)!

Oral herpes

Oral herpes infection or HSV-1 is caused by a virus called herpes simplex virus. It transmitted when a person with active sores has intimate or sexual contact, such as kissing or oral sex with another person. The first outbreak tends to be the most painful because people typically get a cluster of mouth sores and other symptoms such as fever, headache, sore throat, and swollen lymph nodes.

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

Mucous cyst (mucocele)

A mucocele (mucous cyst) is NOT a serious tumor. It's typically caused by repeated biting leading to leakage of mucous from damaged mucous ducts, which accumulates and creates a cyst. It's most commonly found in kids, and usually inside the lower lip but also possibly under the tongue or in the inner cheek.

You should go to your primary care doctor OR an oral surgeon in the next week or so. There, the doctor can cut out the mucocele and treat it for good.

Melanoma of the mouth

Mucosal melanoma of the head and neck (MMHN) is a rare cancer that is approximately 10% of melanomas arising in the head and neck and approximately 1% of all malignant melanomas. It is more common in an elderly population and has a poor prognosis.

You should see your doctor in the next 24 hours, where a biopsy of your lesion is diagnostic. Surgical removal is generally considered the primary treatment whenever the lesion is able to be removed. Radiation therapy has not yet been well proven, but it is often used after surgery to improve control of the disease.

Rarity: Ultra rare

Top Symptoms: gum pain, gum swelling, brown-colored skin changes, black-colored skin changes, mouth rash resembling an amalgam tattoo

Urgency: Primary care doctor

Infected wisdom tooth (pericoronitis)

Pericoronitis of the 3rd molar is an infection of the gums surrounding the 3rd molar (wisdom tooth). It almost never happens to normal teeth because wisdom teeth take a long time to break the gums (erupt). It's believed that once the wisdom tooth breaks the surface of the gums, the bacteria in the mouth get into the gums at that spot and cause an infection. This is also worsened by food particles that build up in the area.

You should go immediately to your dentist, or, if they are not available, go to the nearest urgent care center. There, the dentist/doctor will clean the area, drain any pus, and write for an antibiotic mouth rinse. Penicillin is reserved for severe cases. A follow-up with a dentist is required to see if you need to get the tooth pulled.

Gingivitis

Gingivitis is the infection of the gums surrounding the teeth. It is caused by plaque and/or tartar that has built up on your teeth. Plaque is a sticky layer of gunk made by food particles, mucus, and bacteria. After a while, plaque hardens to become tartar (or calculus). Plaque and tartar at the bottom of the teeth causes the gums to become irritated and infected.

You should go to the nearest dentist in the next few weeks. There, the dentist or dental hygenist will clean your teeth, getting rid of that nasty plaque/tartar. Once cleaned, you should rinse your mouth twice-a-day with chlorhexidine 0.12% oral rinse (PerioGard) or half-strength hydrogen peroxide. Flossing and brushing your teeth are also essential.

Canker sore

Canker sores are small, grayish-white sores in the mouth, often on the inside of the cheeks, lips, and on the tongue. No one really knows why canker sores happen, but it seems to be inherited and susceptible to vitamin deficiencies and allergies.

You can safely treat this condition on your own using Chlorhexidine mouth washes (Peridex or Periogard) or steroid medications (Orabase, Betnesol, or Ovar).

Blood issue that needs further testing

Your blood cells form in your bone marrow. Sometimes, the bone marrow produces abnormal cells. These cells can crowd out the healthy blood cells, making it hard for blood to do its work.

You should see your primary care doctor in the next few days. There, a blood test can look at the number of cells of each type.

Rarity: Rare

Top Symptoms: fatigue, nausea, shortness of breath, muscle aches, fever

Urgency: In-person visit

Gum swelling quiz

Take a quiz to find out what's causing your swelling.

Take gum swelling quiz

Gum swelling treatments and relief

At-home treatments for gum swelling

Environmental gum swelling causes can often be treated through practical and safe measures performed at home. Basic gum care is easy to do, and gum tissue often responds well to good oral hygiene habits. It's likely that your gum swelling symptoms may resolve with some more attentive dental care practices.

  • Lifestyle: Changes in diet can help reduce swelling caused by a variety of factors. Switching toothpastes or mouthwash may provide immediate relief, as well as ensuring the body receives the proper amount of nutrients. Alcohol and tobacco are also known gum irritants.
  • Oral hygiene: Keeping the mouth and gums clean is the best way to reduce swelling and prevent it in the future. Brushing and flossing regularly may be all that is necessary. Rinsing the mouth with salt water or hydrogen peroxide mixtures may also be recommended.
  • Ice: Trauma-related inflammation can be reduced by using cold compresses on the cheek outside of the affected area.

When to see a doctor for gum swelling

If symptoms do not recede or get progressively worse, however, professional intervention may be required.

  • Gums are both swollen and red: Particularly if a routine professional cleaning has not occurred within the last six months
  • Swelling has lasted longer than two weeks
  • If you recently started new medications
  • Significant trauma has occurred

Professional/Medical treatments for gum swelling

Professional teeth cleaning will supplement at-home care, removing plaque, and reducing/preventing gum swelling. Your dentist is your best resource when evaluating treatment options for gum swelling. If typical care is not enough, he/she may have recommendations for particular toothpaste, devices to remove plaque deposits or professional treatment measures.

Questions your doctor may ask about gum swelling

  • What part of your mouth is swollen?
  • Do you have a rash?
  • Does your throat feel itchy or irritated?
  • Does your breath smell worse than usual?

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

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Dr. Rothschild has been a faculty member at Brigham and Women’s Hospital where he is an Associate Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School. He currently practices as a hospitalist at Newton Wellesley Hospital. In 1978, Dr. Rothschild received his MD at the Medical College of Wisconsin and trained in internal medicine followed by a fellowship in critical care medicine. He also received an MP...
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References

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