Why Are My Gums Swollen?
Swollen gums are never normal or healthy. Swollen or inflamed gums often bleed and appear bright red in color due to an increased blood flow to the affected site. If you see red, puffy gums when you inspect your mouth, do not assume they will get better on their own. In this article, we will discuss the underlying causes of gum inflammation, how to prevent it, and the most common ways to treat it.
Why do Our Gums Bleed and Become Inflamed?
The name for inflammation in the gums is gingivitis, and there can be a variety of causes of this acute inflammation. The bacterial toxins produced from inadequately removing dental plaque from our teeth is the most common cause of inflamed gum tissue. Gingivitis can also be caused by chemical or physical irritants. Chemical irritants can include strong acids or certain medications not meant for topical application to the gums. Physical irritation includes any type of trauma or injury.
Some people can also experience inflammation in the gums as the result of a medical condition or nutritional deficiencies. For example, a recent study has shown that those low in vitamin C often have swollen, inflamed gum tissues. Women undergoing puberty, pregnancy, or menopause can also experience hormonal gingivitis as surges in estrogen and progesterone cause more blood flow to the gums.
Do Swollen Gums Mean I Have Periodontal Disease?
That is a great question! And the answer is, “not necessarily.” Swollen gums are simply an indicator of acute inflammation, which is the earliest stage in gum disease.
Periodontal disease is when acute gingivitis becomes a chronic condition.
Swollen gums do not always constitute an automatic diagnosis of periodontal disease, as it is possible to have swollen gums without progressive periodontal disease. However, it is also possible to have active periodontal disease without feeling the symptom of swollen gums.
Chronic inflammation is destructive in nature, and it causes the body’s defense mechanism to destroy the ligaments and jawbone surrounding the teeth.
Swollen gums are not always associated with periodontal disease, but it IS a warning sign that you should see a dentist and undergo a periodontal evaluation.
What are the Dangers of Periodontal Disease?
Did you know that nearly 50% of adults in the US over age 30 suffer from a periodontal condition?
Periodontal disease poses several threats to both your oral health and overall health. As gum disease progresses, you lose the foundational support for the teeth, meaning that otherwise healthy teeth can loosen and fall out of the mouth. Periodontal disease, often shortened to simply “perio” by dental professionals, causes noticeably bad breath and cosmetic challenges in the smile through black triangles and receding gums.
Researchers also link active periodontal disease with multiple systemic health conditions, including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s disease. Studies show that people with chronic gum disease have a much higher risk for suffering heart attacks and strokes than those with healthy gums. Diabetic patients have more difficulty controlling blood sugar when they also suffer from active gum disease.
Chronic periodontal disease is not a disease that affects only the mouth. It impacts your overall health!
What Other Symptoms are Indicators of Gum Disease?
In its earliest stages, the most noticeable symptoms of gum disease are those of acute inflammation. You may see gums that appear bright red or even purplish in color. Due to the increased blood flow to the site, these tissues are very likely to bleed with even a mild touch. Some people also experience an achiness or tenderness in their gum tissues, especially when brushing or flossing.
Chronic gum disease actually causes fewer noticeable symptoms. This is because the disease activity is now occurring beneath the surface. As gum disease worsens and you lose the supporting structures that hold the teeth in bone around each tooth’s root, you may notice receding gums and sensitive teeth. The gums may shrink back to leave small openings between the teeth and gums called black triangles.
As more bacteria collects on the teeth, you and those around you may notice increasingly persistent bad breath. When gum disease is in its most severe stages, you may feel mobility in the teeth, or in extreme cases, the teeth can simply fall out of your mouth.
What is the Best Treatment for My Gum Condition?
The treatment necessary to manage your gum condition depends on the stage of gum disease you have. In order to diagnose the current stage of periodontal disease, you must see a dentist for a full mouth evaluation. You also can perform some tasks at home to relieve the tenderness of swollen gums and reduce your chance of recurrence of the disease after treatment.
If you are experiencing acute pain with visible redness and swelling in your gums, there are a few steps you can take to manage the symptoms at home. The first and most important thing is to NOT avoid brushing and flossing. Allowing dental plaque to accumulate will only increase the toxins penetrating your gums. You must maintain consistent oral hygiene throughout the time of swelling and tenderness. Be sure to use a soft bristle toothbrush and be gentle when flossing to ease further discomfort.
The simplest method of relief is a warm salt water rinse, performed for one to two minutes, up to five times per day. Salt water reduces inflammation and fights infection. You can also buy over-the-counter mouthwash aimed at easing the pain of tender gums. Colgate’s Peroxyl is a wonderful option available in most pharmacies and grocery stores.
When your dentist performs a full mouth periodontal evaluation, he or she will determine your current stage of active gum disease and recommend treatment.
When the disease is in the earliest stage of gingivitis without any attachment loss to the surrounding tissues, treatment typically involves a series of professional teeth cleanings.
Disease that has progressed to the mild or moderate stage will require more invasive treatments, beginning with scaling or root planing (also commonly called “deep cleanings”).
Because the cause of advancing gum disease is bacterial in nature, dentists often recommend additional therapies to reduce disease-causing bacteria and allow your body to heal.
Those with severe gum disease and advanced tissue loss will require more aggressive treatment. This could involve periodontal surgery, often performed by a gum specialist known as a periodontist.
What are Some Tips to Improve my Oral Hygiene and Have Healthier Gums for Life?
If you want to have healthy gums for a lifetime, you have to start now!
The most common cause of diseased gums is dental plaque, and you can stop it before it starts with great oral hygiene at home. Be sure to visit your dental hygienist at least every six months for consistent professional teeth cleanings. However, your dental team alone cannot keep your gums healthy. It’s important to remove dental plaque at home every day.
Great oral hygiene must be consistent. Dental plaque accumulates on the teeth all day every day. We must commit to removing it on a regular basis to prevent disease from starting.
The best plaque removal strategy includes twice daily brushing and flossing every night before bed. You can also add mouthwash, as recommended by your dentist, for your specific oral care needs.
Did you know that it is possible to brush and floss every day and still leave dental plaque on the teeth? This is the result of poor technique in brushing and/or flossing.
When brushing, you should angle the soft bristles of your toothbrush at a 45-degree angle toward the gumline of your teeth. Move the brush in gentle, circular motions at the gumline, and make sure the bristles touch every surface of every tooth. Many people find that electric toothbrushes enable them to more effectively remove dental plaque than manual brushes do.
Flossing is also a practice that is technique-sensitive. Dentists and hygienists recommend C-shaped flossing, which wraps around the hidden side of each tooth and removes plaque in a vertical motion. Ask your dental hygienist for tips to improve your flossing technique at your next professional teeth cleaning visit.
Next Steps: Do You Have Swollen Gums?
You can start improving your oral health today by working on your brushing and flossing. If you have not seen a dentist or dental hygienist in over 6 months, it is time to schedule a visit. Professional teeth cleanings are essential for maintaining healthy gums for life.