Fact Checked

Swollen Gums: Causes, Treatment, and Prevention

Written by Fernanda Elizalde

June 28, 2022

Medically Reviewed

By Dr. Brian Harris, DDS

Taking care of your teeth and gums is integral to having a healthy mouth.

Over time, due to certain health conditions and poor oral hygiene, people may experience swollen gums. Gums swell as a sign of defense against infection.

Gingivitis is one of the early signs of gum disease. Gingivitis happens as a result of plaque and tartar buildup, this irritates the gums and often leads to swelling and poor gum health.

If gingivitis is left untreated, it could lead to poor oral health and well-being. Gum disease is usually less common in developed nations however, it can affect anyone with poor dental health.

It’s important to identify the cause of gum swelling and find effective treatments to prevent advanced gum disease. 

The First Signs of Gingivitis

Gingivitis is reversible if treated early. 

The early symptoms of gingivitis are puffy, red, swollen, and inflamed gums. Another common sign of gingivitis is bleeding of the gums when you’re brushing or flossing your teeth.

Healthy gums should be pink in color. If they’re red and inflamed, you’ll need to visit your dentist for a checkup. Dental treatment can help soothe aggravated gums.

Gum swelling may cause discomfort, it generally happens when disease-causing bacteria has built up. You may notice swelling along the top of the teeth or bulging puffy gums. 

Delaying the proper oral care for gingivitis can lead to periodontal disease, a more severe and advanced form of gum disease. Periodontal disease can cause teeth to loosen, fall out, or become heavily decayed.  

Causes and treatments

There are a few reasons why you may be experiencing swollen gums. Experiencing symptoms of gingivitis can be uncomfortable and painful.

Thankfully, there are treatments and remedies that can help soothe swollen gums and restore your oral health.

Seven common causes of gum swelling

Here are seven potential culprits that may be causing swollen gums. 

Gingivitis

Gingivitis causes swelling of the gingiva (also known as the gums). When bacteria and plaque accumulate on the teeth it could lead to your gums becoming irritated.

Your gums react to this bacteria by becoming sensitive, tender, and may become swollen. Gingivitis is extremely common and thankfully it’s reversible with a strong oral hygiene routine and routine cleanings.  

Infection

A bacterial infection could also cause swollen gums. A tooth abscess is a pocket of pus around an infected tooth. This bacterial infection could spread below the gum line and cause swelling.  A tooth abscess can be quite painful and should be treated immediately to prevent a deeper infection. 

Female Hormonal Changes 

A woman’s monthly period may also be the reason behind swollen gums. Hormone changes during pregnancy or menstruation could cause bright red puffy gums, canker sores, bleeding gums, and swollen salivary glands. This form of gingivitis is temporary and usually only lasts a few days.

Smoking and Tobacco Use

Smoking is one of the largest causes of poor oral health and tooth decay. Tobacco can dehydrate the mouth, disturb blood flow to the mouth, and weaken the gum tissue and blood vessels.

Smoking also causes low saliva production, cavities, and tooth loss. There are no ‘safe’ forms of tobacco. Smoking and regular tobacco use wreak havoc on your dental health. 

Nutritional Deficiencies 

A deficiency of certain vitamins and minerals in the body can also cause oral issues. A lack of vitamin C and B in particular can delay healing around the teeth and gums.

Peer-reviewed studies show that a person deficient in vitamin C can also develop scurvy, which can lead to gingivitis. It’s essential to eat a nutritious diet, take vitamins, and get blood tests done to identify any potential deficiencies. 

Canker Sores

Canker sores are ulcers that form around the gum tissue or in the mouth, these sores may cause gum swelling.

Canker sores can be painful while eating and chewing food. They usually go away after a few weeks however if they persist, visit your dentist for treatment. 

Wisdom Teeth 

Inflammation of the gum tissue around your wisdom teeth can also cause swelling. When your final set of molars comes in, usually in your teens or twenties, it’s common for there to be swelling around the lower back teeth.

This is also known as pericoronitis. If the wisdom teeth erupt through the gums, debris and bacteria may become trapped and irritate the gums and cause swelling.

Your dentist may need to treat wisdom teeth by extracting them or prescribing antibiotics and rinses if there's a sign of infection. 

Treatment 

There are many treatments and home remedies for swollen gums. Ideally, you should also consult a dental professional to diagnose the root cause. Here are some ways to improve your overall oral health and reduce gum swelling. 

Ways to keep your gum line healthy

Swollen gums can be prevented and treated long-term. These treatments may not cure the underlying problem if it’s another health condition, however, these treatments may reduce bleeding and other symptoms.

  • Brush regularly. Brush your teeth twice a day with a soft-bristled toothbrush. Be gentle and avoid aggressive brushing or hard toothbrushes. 

  • Floss daily. Floss your teeth regularly and gently to avoid irritation to the gums. 

  • Saltwater rinse. Doing a saltwater rinse can reduce inflammation and get rid of any excess food particles and bacteria that may cause infection.

  • Use the right mouthwash. Use a strong mouthwash with gingivitis-fighting ingredients. A good mouthwash will also soothe and treat symptoms of swelling.  

  • Eat a balanced diet. Eat plenty of nutritious foods and drink lots of water to boost your immune system. A healthy diet will increase saliva production, improve bone density, and help reduce your chance of gum infection. 

Frequently Asked Questions

How do you get rid of swollen gums?

There are effective home remedies as well as dental treatments to improve symptoms of swollen gums. Saltwater rinsing, brushing your teeth regularly, flossing daily, and using products that reduce inflammation are all ways to get rid of swollen gums.

Do swollen gums go away?

It depends. Swollen gums may be temporary and go away within two to three days. This swelling can be due to food particles being stuck between the teeth that are causing inflammation.

If the swelling persists longer than five days, it could be a sign of infection or gingivitis. In this case, you should visit your dentist for diagnosis and treatment. 

What is the fastest way to relieve swollen gums?

The fastest way to temporarily relieve swollen gums is to use a cold compress to reduce swelling. A warm compress may help as well. However, this is a temporary solution. Chances are you need to thoroughly brush, floss, and use an antibacterial mouthwash to address swelling in the long term.  

Summary

Gum swelling is common and could happen for a variety of reasons. Poor oral hygiene, infection, wisdom teeth, vitamin deficiencies, smoking, hormone shifts, and certain health conditions can all be culprits of gum inflammation. 

Gum infection can be treated effectively with good oral hygiene, the right dental products, and home treatments. It is essential to find the cause and eliminate any infection to prevent gingivitis from advancing to a serious stage of gum disease.

Taking care of your teeth and gums can help prevent any future diseases and ensure gum infections are prevented.