What to do about swollen gums
Anyone experiencing swollen gums should see a dentist for a full diagnosis and treatment.
Numerous issues can lead to swollen gums. Most of them relate to oral health or complications from oral health issues.
In this article, we cover the causes of swollen gums, as well as some treatment options and home remedies.
In the sections below, we look at some potential causes of swollen gums:
Food particles stuck in the teeth
Causes of swollen gums include gingivitis and food particles becoming stuck in the teeth.
The cause of swollen gums may be simple, such as getting food particles stuck in the teeth.
For instance, eating popcorn may cause hard pieces of kernel to become stuck between the teeth, sometimes lodging in the gums. This can easily cause irritation and swelling in the area.
Most of the time, these symptoms do not last long and will go away once the person brushes and flosses out the food particles.
Gingivitis is a stage of gum disease that causes swelling and irritation in the gums. It is one of the most common conditions to cause swollen gums and will likely be what a dentist checks for first.
A person may not know they have gingivitis and only feel mild pain or sensitivity. However, treatment is very important.
Without treatment, gingivitis may develop into a serious infection in the gums, called periodontitis or periodontal disease.
A few other symptoms to look out for that may indicate periodontal disease include:
- a foul taste in the mouth
- very bad breath that persists after cleaning
- sensitive teeth
- loose teeth or tooth loss
- red, painful gums
- pain when chewing
- bleeding gums
- receding gums
- changes in how the teeth sit in the mouth
Swollen gums may also occur when a person is pregnant, even if they have perfect oral health.
Pregnancy causes significant and rapid changes in hormones. These changing hormones may greatly increase blood flow to the gums, causing them to be more sensitive to swelling.
Infections may occur in the mouth and lead to issues such as swelling in the gums.
Complications from infected teeth, such as an abscess, may also lead to swelling, particularly in one area of the gums.
Some other health issues may cause gum swelling, though they may be less common. Other possible causes of swollen gums include:
- side effects from some medications
- sensitivity to oral products, such as ingredients in a toothpaste or mouthwash
- wearing poorly fitting dentures, crowns, or other dental appliances
In every case, a dentist will review the person's other symptoms and go over their medical history with them to determine the underlying cause.
Medicated mouthwash may help treat swollen gums.
Medical treatment for swollen gums begins with seeing a dentist.
Seeing a dentist for regular checkups and cleaning may help identify and prevent oral health issues before they cause problems.
The type of medication or treatment the dentist recommends will depend on the underlying cause.
Medical treatments for oral issues may include:
- medicated mouthwashes
Taking steps to treat swollen gums is a key part of any dental treatment.
These measures may help prevent swelling or ease the symptom:
- Brush regularly, at least twice each day or after every meal.
- Floss regularly.
- Use gentle oral products such as toothpaste and mouthwash.
- Avoid sugary drinks, as they can contribute to bacteria buildup in the mouth.
- Avoid tobacco, including smoking or chewing it.
- Avoid alcohol and alcoholic mouthwashes, as the alcohol may dry out and irritate the gums.
- Avoid sharp foods such as chips, seeds, and popcorn, which may get stuck in the teeth and cause pain.
It is important to note that these tips are only supplements to a proper diagnosis and treatment. Swollen or irritated gums typically signal an underlying issue. Ignoring these symptoms may make the issue worse in the long term.
Although maintaining good oral hygiene will protect against health problems in many cases, issues may still occur.
If oral symptoms such as swelling in the gums do occur, there are some home remedies that show promise. We cover them in more detail below:
Using a saltwater rinse may promote oral health and soothe inflammation in the gums. A study in the journal PLOS One notes that rinsing human gum cells with saltwater in a laboratory helped stimulate wound healing.
A simple saltwater rinse using about 1 teaspoon of salt in 1 cup of warm water should be enough for each sitting. People should let the salt dissolve, then gently swish the mixture in the mouth for 30 seconds before spitting it out.
Rinsing up to three times each day may help reduce temporary swelling.
Some essential oils may also promote general oral health.
A review in the journal Evidence-Based Dentistry notes that mouthwashes containing essential oils reduced plaque and inflammation in people with gingivitis more effectively than some medicated mouthwashes.
A study in the European Journal of Dentistry notes that in cell cultures, the essential oils of thyme, peppermint, clove, and tea tree are particularly helpful in preventing the growth of germs that can lead to common oral issues.
Another study, in the Journal of Clinical and Diagnostic Research, also found that a mouthwash containing lemongrass oil reduced plaque. It also reduced other signs of gingivitis more effectively than a common medicated mouthwash. The researchers note, however, that further study is necessary.
Before using any mouthwash containing essential oils to treat swelling in the gums, people should check to be sure that it does not contain other harsh ingredients, such as alcohol. These ingredients may irritate the gums further.
Aloe vera is a common plant that may be very helpful for oral inflammation.
A systematic review in the International Journal of Dental Hygiene notes that the current research shows that aloe vera gel reduces inflammation in the gums from gingivitis. However, the study also notes aloe vera is not necessarily better than a medicated mouthwash.
The research does not conclusively show that aloe vera can cure or treat plaque and gingivitis itself. That said, it could reduce the inflammation associated with it.
Many companies now make mouthwash using aloe vera as an active ingredient. Some people also choose to use the gel from the plant directly. Swishing these products in the mouth for a couple of minutes before spitting them out may help reduce swelling in the gums.
There are many aloe vera mouthwashes available to purchase online.
Products such as turmeric gel or aloe vera mouthwash may help with inflammation in the mouth.
Turmeric, the yellow spice present in many Indian dishes, may also help with gum swelling.
A study in the National Journal of Maxillofacial Surgery found that a turmeric gel could effectively help control plaque in the mouth and reduce symptoms of gingivitis. The researchers note that this is possibly due to its anti-inflammatory nature.
Some companies offer turmeric gel or powder for brushing the teeth. Applying such a product to the teeth after brushing each day may help reduce plaque and swelling in the gums.
When to see a doctor
Although home remedies may help temporarily solve irritating swelling in the gums, they are not a substitute for diagnosis and treatment from a health professional.
Underlying conditions may lead to serious complications. Anyone experiencing swollen gums should see a dentist for a full diagnosis and treatment.
Swollen gums are a common issue, and in most cases, they are not a cause for concern.
However, swollen gums that last for longer than 1–2 days may be a sign of an underlying issue such as gingivitis,periodontitis, or a tooth abscess. If swelling occurs alongside a fever, a person should contact their dentist immediately.
People should not ignore symptoms such as swollen gums, and they should seek help from a dentist if other symptoms appear.