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Swollen Gums: Causes and Treatment

September 2, 2021

Originally published August 2019. Updated September 2021.

If only our gums could talk, things would be so much simpler. They could warn us about unwanted bacteria or tightly wedged food debris left behind from our last meal. But...since gums can’t talk, they do the next best thing: swell.

Swelling anywhere in the body is a sign that something is amiss, and swollen gums are no exception.

Think of swollen, inflamed gums as an alarm bell. Healthy gums are firm, flat along your teeth, and a natural color — ranging from light pink to dark purple and usually depending on your skin tone.

On the other hand, if your gums are puffy, look unusually red, or appear to pull away from your teeth, it’s time to figure out the cause of those swollen gums and, in some cases, talk to your dentist about gum inflammation treatment.

Give your gums the love they deserve – schedule your annual cleaning today! Need dental insurance? Shop our Individual & Family™ plans to find coverage that’s right for you!

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What Causes Swollen Gums?

Unfortunately, there’s no one-size-fits-all answer as to what might be causing your gums to become inflamed. Everything from gingivitis and improper flossing to malnutrition and even hormones play a role. Read below for more information on what might be the root cause of your swollen gums and how you can treat them.


We talk a lot about gingivitis. And for good reason. Quite a few dental issues begin and end with gingivitis. Gingivitis is an early stage of gum disease. It happens when plaque buildup around your teeth causes an infection in your gums. Red, tender, and swollen gums around your tooth, or gums that bleed easily, are all signs of gingivitis.

Gingivitis should be taken seriously. In its early stages, swollen gums and gingivitis are usually treated by improving your at-home oral hygiene and getting regular in-office cleanings. Ignoring gingivitis leads to more serious periodontal disease and even tooth loss.

Oral Abscess

When left untreated, gingivitis leads to a more serious bacterial infection in the root of your tooth. This sometimes causes an abscess to form. An abscess is a pocket of pus that develops as a result of a severe infection. It is serious and can spread to other parts of the body, so see a dentist immediately if you suspect an abscess. Signs of an abscess include persistent and severe mouth pain, red and swollen gums, and a fever.


As if pimples and mood swings weren’t enough, for some women, changes in hormones during pregnancy, puberty and menstruation also lead to inflamed gums.

Your gums are full of blood vessels that carry oxygen and nutrients to the roots of your teeth. During pregnancy, puberty, and menstruation, an increase in estrogen and progesterone causes more blood to flow to the gums, making them sensitive to irritants. The gums essentially overreact to the presence of plaque during times of high estrogen and progesterone. Your gums swell, bleed, and become inflamed more easily.

Although swollen gums usually calm down once hormones level out, it is important to take extra care of your teeth. This sensitivity makes your gums more susceptible to gingivitis, especially pregnancy gingivitis, so be sure to remove plaque and debris thoroughly when you brush and floss.

Contact Dermatitis

Occasionally, a person’s gums swell because of a reaction to chemicals placed in the mouth, namely certain ingredients in toothpaste, mouthwash, and chewing gum. Known as oral contact dermatitis, this is an uncommon reason for inflamed gums, but it does happen.

Symptoms of contact dermatitis include sores around the mouth, an irritated tongue, itching and peeling lips, and of course, swollen gums. As far as toothpaste and gum ingredients go, cinnamon and balsam are the usual suspects. Metals used in dental work are also known to occasionally cause irritation and swollen gums.

If you think your gum inflammation is because of contact dermatitis, try switching oral products. If this doesn’t work, make an appointment with your doctor or dentist to properly diagnose and treat the problem.

Swollen Gums as a Side Effect to Medication

Some medications also cause swollen or inflamed gums. Medications typically linked to swollen gums include certain blood pressure medicines, immunosuppressants, oral contraceptives, and chemotherapy medications.

If your gums swell because of medication, talk to your dentist. He or she might recommend a special dental care regimen to minimize any discomfort and help keep your teeth clean around the swollen gums.

Food Debris

Of course, sometimes a case of swollen gums around the tooth has a very simple explanation: popcorn. Or rather: popcorn, sesame seeds, chewy meats, raspberry seeds, etc. When food debris gets stuck between your teeth and your gums, a good round of flossing usually does the trick.

Improper Flossing Technique

Although flossing is an important way to minimize gum inflammation, the opposite is also true. Your gums are a soft tissue, so flosser beware. Pushing floss in too far or too hard risks cutting into tender gums, causing irritation and swelling.

When you floss — which you should do at least once each day! — make sure to get floss thread between your teeth all the way to the gum line, but don’t push down into your gum tissue.

Malnutrition and Swollen Gums

A lesser-known reason for swollen gums is malnutrition. Good nutrition helps keep tissues in your body healthy and improves your ability to fight off infection, including gum infection. Research suggests that poor nutrition speeds up the progress of gum disease, reduces your mouth’s ability to fight off plaque, and limits the ability of gum tissues to heal.

If you think you aren’t getting enough of a particular nutrient, your doctor is your best resource. But in general, the vitamin deficiencies researchers link to swollen gums include:

  • Vitamin A: weakens the gum tissue
  • Vitamin C: causes bleeding gums and delays wound healing
  • Vitamin B2, B3, B6 and B12: worsens gingivitis

How to Treat Swollen Gums at Home

Now that you’ve come closer to answering the question “why are my gums swollen?”, it’s time to talk about how to treat them.

Treating swollen gums doesn’t just stop the discomfort; it is an important part of your oral health. Inflamed gums pull away from the tooth and create pockets where food gets trapped. Food trapped in pockets between your teeth and gums isn’t easily removed by regular brushing and flossing, which leaves you more susceptible to cavities and serious gum infections.

Sometimes, stepping up your brush-and-floss game is all it takes to treat swollen gums. Rinsing your mouth with salt water also helps get rid of disease-causing bacteria. But don’t wait long. If these home remedies don’t help your inflamed gums within a few weeks, it’s time to see your dentist.

Gum Inflammation Treatment at the Dentist

When at-home remedies don’t do the trick, it’s time to bring in the big guns. Depending on the cause and severity of your inflamed gums, your dentist might simply prescribe an oral rinse or a special brand of toothpaste to help prevent gingivitis and reduce plaque. If your gums are infected, your dentist might also prescribe a course of antibiotics.

If more severe periodontal disease is the cause of your swollen gums, you might need a special type of cleaning, called scaling and root planing. This in-office gum inflammation treatment involves using a special instrument to carefully remove plaque and tartar from below the gum line. Root surfaces are then smoothed, or planed, allowing gum tissue to heal and reattach to your teeth.

Give your gums the love they deserve – schedule your annual cleaning today! Need dental insurance? Shop our Individual & Family™ plans to find coverage that’s right for you!

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