Do you suffer from swollen gums? This is a common oral health symptom that usually indicates the onset of gum disease. The swollen areas of gum are usually the small triangular pieces that separate one tooth from the next (papillae). The condition may or may not be painful. If swelling is accompanied by persistent redness and occasional bleeding when you brush or floss, you probably have gingivitis. However, inflammation can also be caused by many other factors including:

  • Temporary changes in hormones (such as pregnancy)
  • Infection (bacterial, viral or fungal)
  • Irritation from improperly fitted dental prosthetics
  • Allergic or chemical irritant reaction
  • Poor diet (especially deficiency in vitamin C)
  • Debris stuck in gums
  • Canker sores (apthous ulcers)
  • Certain prescription drugs (such as blood pressure meds, cyclosporine and seizure medications)

How Can I Treat Swollen Gums Caused by Gingivitis?

Treatment starts at home by improving your dental care habits. You can reverse the very early stages of gingivitis-related gum swelling by brushing and flossing more frequently and thoroughly. This removes the plaque that has built up on the roots of your teeth just below the gum line (this foreign matter is what causes the swelling). If the plaque has hardened into tartar, you will need to see a dental hygienist to have this material safely removed without injuring your gums. Your dentist may also recommend treatments like scaling and planing to remove tartar and help limit future recurrence of plaque buildup.

What Substances Can Irritate My Gums?

Gum swelling may be an indication of a reaction to substances found in toothpaste or mouthwash. Allergies or irritant reactions of this kind aren’t all that common. However, if symptoms began when you started using a new oral health product, it may indicate that you should switch to a different brand. Your dentist may recommend products that don’t contain surfactants, alcohol or other known irritants.

Tobacco is another well-documented culprit in cases of persistent swollen gums. Stop smoking or using smokeless tobacco products to allow your gums to heal. If your gums become inflamed after you eat highly acidic foods like tomato or citrus, you may wish to make changes to your diet. Just make sure you are still getting plenty of vitamin C in other foods or with a daily supplement.

What If Only One Area of My Gums Is Swollen?

Gingivitis can start in just one area if that’s where plaque or tartar has accumulated. However, there can also be other causes for localized swelling. Probe the gum gently to see if there is anything lodged between the gum flap and the tooth (such as a piece of tortilla chip or a popcorn kernel shell). You may be able to numb the tissue with ice and dislodge the debris with a toothpick or a pair of sterilized tweezers. Just be careful not to cause more damage to the gums when you do this.

The area may also be affected by a canker sore. These sores will heal on their own within a week or two. There are many at-home remedies you can use to ease the pain and speed recovery. You may find it soothing to rinse your mouth with saltwater or suck on ice chips. Baking soda, hydrogen peroxide, liquid antacids, liquid antihistamines, and dental mouthwashes can all be helpful for treating gum swelling caused by a canker sore.

When Should I See a Dentist for My Swollen Gums?

You should see your dentist if gum swelling:

  • Doesn’t respond to improved oral hygiene within a couple of weeks
  • Involves an ulcer that doesn’t heal (this is a potential sign of oral cancer)
  • Is accompanied by severe pain or lots of bleeding
  • Is caused by something lodged in the tissue that you can’t remove safely and easily
  • Is occurring where dentures or other dental prosthetics rub against the gum
  • Is happening along with other signs of an oral yeast infection (such as a furry tongue)
  • Comes to a head like a pimple (this is a sign of a dental abscess)
  • Appears to involve the gum tissue actually growing over your teeth and not just temporarily puffing up (this may indicate a reaction to medications and could lead to the need for gingival reduction surgery)

Fortunately, most cases of swollen gums are readily treatable and should resolve with appropriate dental care.