Swollen gum around one tooth: What to know
In this article, we outline the possible causes of a swollen gum around one tooth. We also provide information on treatment and when to see a dentist.
Possible causes of swollen gums around one tooth include:
Poor dental hygiene
Sometimes, food debris can become trapped between the tooth and the gumline. Flossing and brushing usually remove this debris.
If a person does not remove the debris, it can cause the gum around the tooth to swell. Over time, this may result in dental decay and gum disease.
Infection and inflammation of the gums may cause periodontal disease.
Image credit: Anders Hedin, 1993
About 46% of people aged 30 years or older in the United States show signs of gum disease. The medical term for this is periodontal disease.
Periodontal disease happens due to infection and inflammation of the gums that support and surround the teeth. These infections occur when a person has a buildup of plaque. Plaque hardens to form tartar, or calculus, which is more difficult to remove.
There are two stages of periodontal disease:
When a person has gingivitis, their gums become swollen and inflamed. Other symptoms include:
- gum redness and tenderness
- bleeding gums
- bad breath
Gingivitis is reversible, but without treatment, it can lead to periodontitis.
Periodontitis is the later stage of periodontal disease, during which the gums pull away or recede from the tooth. When this happens, an infection can damage the bone that supports the tooth, causing the tooth to loosen or even fall out.
A person with periodontitis will experience the following symptoms in addition to those of gingivitis:
- teeth that appear longer due to gum recession
- teeth that appear further apart
- teeth that are loose or wobbly
- pus between the gums and teeth
- a change in the way that the teeth fit together when biting
- a change in the fit of partial dentures
The two types of dental abscess are periodontal and periapical.
Image credit: Coronation Dental Specialty Group, 2014
A dental abscess is a collection of pus that forms within a tooth or its surrounding structures as a result of a bacterial infection.
There are two types of dental abscess:
- Periapical abscesses usually occur due to decay or tooth fractures, and they affect the root of a tooth.
- Periodontal abscesses affect the gum.
Both types may cause gum swelling and redness around a tooth.
Other symptoms of a dental abscess include:
- an intense throbbing pain in the tooth or gum
- pain that radiates to the ear, jaw, or neck
- pain that is worse when lying down
- a tender, discolored, or loose tooth
- facial redness and swelling
- sensitivity to hot and cold foods or beverages
- bad breath
- an unpleasant taste in the mouth
If the dental abscess is severe, a person may also experience:
- a fever
- a general feeling of being unwell
- difficulty opening the mouth
- trouble swallowing
- breathing issues
The following home remedies can help reduce gum inflammation and improve gum health.
Antiseptic mouthwash cannot remove existing plaque and tartar, but it can help control the buildup of additional plaque bacteria.
Antiseptic mouthwash is available over the counter (OTC) at drugstores and pharmacies. Look for brands containing ingredients with strong antiseptic properties, such as cetylpyridinium chloride.
A 2016 study investigated the effects of a saltwater rinse on gum wound healing.
For this study, researchers removed the gingival fibroblast cells from donors' teeth. These cells make up the connective tissues of the teeth.
After isolating the damaged cells, the researchers rinsed them in a saltwater solution for 2 minutes, three times per day.
They found that saltwater solutions with a concentration of 1.8% were most effective in improving the rate of wound healing.
People can make an effective saltwater solution by dissolving a level teaspoon of salt in a cup of cooled boiled water. They can rinse with the solution three to four times a day.
A 2014 study investigated the antiplaque and antigingivitis effects of an herbal mouth rinse containing tea tree oil, clove, and basil. These ingredients have antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties.
The researchers divided the 40 participants into two groups. One group used a commercially available mouth rinse for 21 days, while the other group used the herbal mouth rinse.
The results of the herbal rinse were comparable to those of the commercial rinse. Participants in both groups showed improvements in various measures of gum health, including reduced plaque and gum inflammation.
Pain relievers, such as ibuprofen, can help reduce gum pain while a person undergoes treatment for dental abscesses or periodontal disease.
People can speak to their dentist about the following medical treatments:
Tooth scaling and polishing
Professional tooth cleaning removes tartar from the teeth, which can help reverse gingivitis.
During the cleaning, the dental hygienist uses special instruments to scrape off the tartar. They then smooth and polish the surface of the tooth to help prevent future plaque accumulation.
Root planing is a deep cleaning procedure that removes plaque and tartar from the roots of teeth. Dentists may refer to this removal as scaling or debridement.
People who undergo this procedure will often receive a local anesthetic.
Sometimes, the infection may already have spread to other parts of the body. In very severe cases, a person may need to stay in the hospital and receive intravenous antibiotics.
Incision and drainage
In some cases, a dentist may need to make an incision in the abscess to remove the infected pus.
After drainage, the dentist will flush the area with saline. Other treatments may also be necessary.
A root canal is a dental procedure that involves removing bacteria from the infected tooth roots.
The dentist accesses the tooth roots via the crown, which is the visible part of the tooth. They then clean and fill the roots and crown. Some people may need an artificial crown to protect and restore the tooth.
Occasionally, a dentist may need to remove the infected tooth. This procedure will require local anesthesia.
When to see a dentist
Without treatment, periodontal disease may develop into periodontitis.
Image credit: Bin im Garten, 2017
People should have a dental checkup at least once or twice a year, even if they do not have any tooth or gum symptoms.
Checkups allow the dentist to treat any problems in the early stages before they become more severe.
People should see a dentist between scheduled visits if they experience any of the following symptoms:
- swollen or bleeding gums
- mouth spots or sores that last longer than a week
- jaw pain or an uneven bite
- difficulty chewing or swallowing
- pain or swelling in the mouth, face, or neck
The best way to prevent gum inflammation is to practice good oral hygiene by:
- brushing the teeth twice a day
- flossing at least once a day
- having a dental checkup once or twice a year
- visiting the dentist if experiencing swollen gums or tooth pain
- avoiding excess sugar to prevent plaque formation
- avoiding tobacco use
A swollen gum around one tooth can occur for many reasons, including poor dental hygiene and periodontal disease.
People should visit the dentist if the swelling persists for more than a week. An earlier appointment is necessary if a person suspects a tooth abscess.
In many cases, a person can prevent gum swelling by practicing good oral hygiene, which involves brushing and flossing regularly and visiting the dentist for routine checkups.
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