What You Need To Know About Swollen Gums

Are you troubled with swollen, inflamed and painful gums that bleed or just look unsightly? Does bad breath come with this? Are you looking for a solution to these problems?

Most of us have had such gingival inflammation at one time or the other as it is a fairly common problem. Here are a few guidelines that can help you tackle the problem of gingivitis, which commonly causes swollen/inflamed gums.

 

Swollen gums due to very poor oral hygiene and resultant periodontal disease

Swollen gums due to very poor oral hygiene and resultant periodontal disease

Causes of the problem

Let us first explore the causes and risk factors for getting swelling of the gums

  • Dental plaque/tartar/calculus: Everyone has plaque develop on their teeth during the day. The primary cause of gingival inflammation is dental plaque and calculus. Plaque is a sticky material made of bacteria, mucus, and food debris that forms on the teeth. If allowed to remain for long enough, it hardens and the subsequent irritation leads to redness, inflammation and bleeding from gums. Proper brushing and oral hygiene measures can take care of plaque whereas tartar/calculus cleaning needs professional help.
  • Poor oral hygiene: Encourages plaque and calculus build up. Daily brushing and regular flossing can help prevent gum inflammation or disease.
  • Smoking: Reduces the ability of gingival tissue to repair and makes them more prone to damage.
  • Hormonal causes: There are lot of hormonal changes during pregnancy, menstruation, puberty, menopause etc which can contribute the problem
  • Medical Conditions : e.g. diabetes, HIV, cancer, scurvy (deficiency of vitamin c), pellagra (niacin deficiency) etc
  • Drugs: e.g. dilantin/phenytoin, Procardia etc. These are drugs that cause gingival overgrowth/swelling as a side effect. Birth control pills can also exacerbate existing gingivitis.
  • Others: The problem may arise around misaligned teeth, rough edges on restorations, ill fitting dentures, braces and/or erupting wisdom teeth.

Swollen gums in children could be due to poor oral hygiene, erupting teeth, trauma or diseases like Type I diabetes; Down syndrome; Kindler syndrome; and Papillon-Lefevre syndrome. They could also be swollen around any orthodontic braces if they are not following oral hygiene instructions properly, or if there is constant irritation from the braces due to some reason.

 

Signs and Symptoms That May Accompany Swollen Gums

Gums tend to change in appearance and color when they are swollen and some changes are visible to us directly and some can be evident to your dentist.

"An image of bleeding gums with a dental probe"

Gums bleeding easily on probing

  • Healthy gingivae are firm, pink and ‘stippled’ (like orange peel) with no swollen papillae (the gum area between teeth). When diseased, the gums appear to be soft, swollen and puffy/shiny. The color may vary from red to reddish-purple.
  • Gums that bleed easily while brushing or flossing.
  • Bad breath and taste in your mouth.
  • Your dentist will be able to tell you if calculus deposits are present.
  • There might be mild gum tenderness (ie sore to touch or brush).

When the symptoms are ignored, they can progress to periodontal disease (and eventually loosening of affected teeth), gum infection or painful gums. Your dentist might recommend some dental x-rays to check the severity of the problem.

 

Treatment and Prevention Tips

The most important step in prevention is maintaining good oral hygiene by effective brushing every day. Flossing regularly also helps in preventing tooth decay and gingival inflammation. The technique of brushing and flossing is as important as the act itself. Your dentist can guide you with a demo on the proper techniques for brushing and flossing.

Rinsing your mouth after every meal and, if you have gingivitis, warm saline or antibacterial mouth rinses can help after a professional cleaning has been done.

It is important to visit the dentist at least twice a year for evaluation and cleaning of your teeth. Once a professional scaling and polishing is done, you can follow your dentist’s advice about maintaining good oral hygiene. The result will be only as good as the effort you put into maintaining good oral hygiene.Scaling lower teeth

Patients with medical disorders predisposing to gingivitis require more frequent professional cleanings (from every 2 weeks to every 3 months). If systemic problems are the cause, then the underlying disease needs to be treated and for drug induced inflammation/overgrowth, either the drugs need to changed or the frequency of professional cleaning needs to be increased.

In case of a swollen gum flap around a wisdom tooth (pericoronitis), your dentist will do a thorough cleaning and advise medication or extraction of the tooth if needed.

Excessively overgrown gingiva, if present, like in the case of a pregnancy tumor or drug-induced hyperplasia, may need to be surgically removed.

In case of a child having swollen gums if regular cleaning and oral hygiene measures do not help, it is better to seek a consultation with a dentist /pediatric dentist (a specialist) for further investigations and advice.

Various home remedies can also be tried, like application of aloe vera over inflamed gums or cinnamon, chamomile, salt mouth rinses. But don’t expect these to help much in terms of cure! It is always advisable to take advice from your dentist and the easiest way to get treated for gingivitis and prevent further damage is by paying a visit to your dentist and seeking professional help.

A few minutes of your time in a day spent on maintaining good oral hygiene can go a long way towards prolonging the health and life of your teeth and gums. Always remember it is easier to prevent than to treat such problems.

 

Further reading:

What is gingivitis?

Gum disease treatment

Bleeding gums

Bad breath advice

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