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What Causes Inflamed Gums?

By Kathy Heydasch
Updated May 17, 2024
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Gingivitis is the medical term for inflamed gums. This symptom may occur when conditions of poor oral hygiene exist, or it may be a sign of a virus or other infection. Most people experience inflamed gums at some point in their lives, but when it becomes persistent or interferes with their quality of life, it is best to have an oral doctor, such as a dentist, examine the mouth for the specific cause.

The tissue surrounding the teeth is commonly referred to as a person’s gums. When the gums are inflamed, it means they have become red, swollen or sore to the touch. Gum inflammation typically occurs when plaque, the clear film that forms on one’s teeth, irritates the skin around the tooth. That is why it is so important to brush and floss to remove plaque build-up. Inflamed gums can usually be corrected by maintaining good oral hygiene, which consists of brushing teeth two to three times each day with a soft toothbrush and flossing regularly.

When good oral hygiene does not correct inflamed gums, one can begin the search for another reason. These include periodontitis, viral or fungal infections, or even side effects of medication. Often even changing one’s toothbrush or adding a rinse or mouthwash to a person’s daily routine can reduce the inflammation.

Gingivitis that is left untreated can progress and become periodontal disease. The bacteria in plaque cause the skin to retreat from the tooth, creating pockets between the gums and teeth. These pockets grow, and teeth can eventually become loose. Progression usually occurs very slowly over one’s lifetime, and periodontitis is rarely found in children unless it is a manifestation of a deeper systemic problem. The best treatment for periodontitis is good oral hygiene.

Inflamed gums can also be caused by viral or fungal infections. A good example is the herpes simplex virus, for which gum inflammation is an early sign of an outbreak. In addition, children are very susceptible to the coxsackievirus, which also causes inflamed gums. The most common fungal infection of the mouth is candidiasis.

When a person has a larger systemic problem, like heart disease or diabetes, inflamed gums can be one of the symptoms. Other, more simple, things might cause inflamed gums, like using dentures that do not fit correctly, brushing too aggressively, or using a toothbrush with hard bristles. A good diet and good oral hygiene can usually correct the problem. In addition, people are encouraged to visit a dentist twice a year for check-ups and treatment.

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Discussion Comments
By stoneMason — On Apr 07, 2013

I get inflamed gums from my braces all the time. I went to my dentist for it but she said my teeth and gums are healthy and didn't really help. I tried lots of different swollen gum treatments but the one that works best is rinsing with warm salt water. Salt water kills bacteria and has anti-inflammatory properties.

When I notice that my gums are swollen, I add lots of salt to warm water and stir until it dissolves. Then, I rinse my mouth with this water several times a day. The swelling usually goes down by the end of the day, or at most in two days.

By serenesurface — On Apr 06, 2013
@literally-- It happens to me sometimes when I push floss too deep into my gums. My gums can bleed and become inflamed. Sometimes the swelling last several days. You just have to be careful, don't push the floss all the way into your gums.

As for mouthwash, my dentist said not to use ones with alcohol in them because they cause irritation and increase the risk of mouth cancer. The alcohol might be irritating your gums and causing them to become inflamed.

By literally45 — On Apr 05, 2013

Does anyone get inflamed gums from flossing or mouthwash?

I don't know if my gums are over-sensitive but after I floss and use mouthwash, my gums swell and hurt. I don't understand why.

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