Simple solutions to soothe sore, fragile gums

Gum pain is hard to ignore. The aching, stinging sensation can linger for days and make eating uncomfortable. If the pain is new, you may worry it signals an undiagnosed condition. As you search for answers, you can relieve pain with a number of home remedies and over-the-counter options.

Sore gum causes

Sore gums have many potential causes. One of the most common is an early (often reversible) stage of gum disease called gingivitis. It happens when buildup of plaque (a sticky film containing bacteria) irritates the gums, making them red, swollen, and prone to bleeding easily.

Sore gums also can be caused by

  • too-vigorous tooth brushing
  • irritation from dentures
  • mouth injury
  • burns from hot food
  • an infection at the base of a tooth (an abscess)
  • thrush (an overgrowth of the fungus Candida albicans)
  • anemia
  • oral herpes (herpes simplex virus)
  • rare autoimmune skin conditions that cause blisters in the mouth
  • deficiency of a vitamin, C or K
  • the use of calcium-channel blockers (prescribed to treat high blood pressure, chest pain, or an irregular heartbeat).

Many of the causes of sore gums can also make them fragile and more prone to tearing easily.

Sore gum risks

Some underlying causes of sore gums can have serious health consequences. For example, gingivitis can progress to periodontitis — advanced gum disease that extends well below the gum line. “Periodontitis is relatively silent and painless. It can remain undetected for many years, until the body cannot adapt anymore and we start seeing symptoms such as tooth loss and shifting teeth,” says Dr. Thomas Nguyen, an instructor in oral medicine, infection, and immunity at the Harvard School of Dental Medicine.

If gum disease bacteria get into the bloodstream, they can infect the heart valves — a life-threatening situation.

Various studies have linked periodontitis (and some of the bacteria that cause it) to high blood pressure, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, osteoporosis, pneumonia, and even Alzheimer’s disease. How an infection of the gums might increase the risk of these very different diseases involving organs a long way from the gums is the subject of speculation and study.

For example, one bacterium that causes gum disease, Porphyromonas gingivalis, is found more often in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s disease than in the brains of people who don’t have Alzheimer’s. Growing evidence suggests P. gingivalis can travel in the blood and cause an infection of the brain, which in turn may lead the brain to produce a chemical (called beta-amyloid) to kill the bacteria. Unfortunately, that same chemical also increases Alzheimer’s disease risk.

Treating sore gums

The following home remedies or over-the-counter treatments may temporarily relieve gum pain.

Over-the-counter painkillers. Ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) can help reduce gum pain, but check with your doctor to make sure it won’t interfere with your medications. For example, ibuprofen can increase the risk for internal bleeding if you’re taking a blood thinner such as warfarin (Coumadin) or dabigatran (Pradaxa).

Topical gels. Benzocaine gels that you rub on the gum may relieve pain for a short time. (Examples are Orajel and Anbesol.) Talk to your dentist or doctor before using the gels; they’re associated with a rare but dangerous side effect called methemoglobinemia, which keeps cells from getting oxygen.

Better flossing tools. “If the sore gum is caused by gingivitis or food that’s stuck in your teeth, a water flosser — such as a Waterpik — along with regular flossing and use of interdental brushes — can help by removing bacterial plaque and resolving the inflammation,” Dr. Nguyen says.

Compresses. Apply either hot or cold compresses to sore gums.

Rinses. Swish warm saltwater around your mouth a few times per day.

Herbal remedies. Some people tout herbal remedies, such as drops of clove oil applied directly on the gum, but there is little evidence to suggest that they are effective at relieving gum pain — and some can be harmful.

Diet changes. Munching dry toast, dry cereals, crackers, or any hard foods may irritate or abrade fragile gums. Avoid food with rough textures until your gums feel better.

How long do you treat it?

Dr. Nguyen says gum pain often goes away after a few weeks. “For conditions such as ulcers, trauma, burns, inflammation, or herpes simplex, time will be your best friend. The body will heal on its own after 14 days,” he notes. But if gum pain persists, see your dentist.

Bible verses for today’s meditation and inspiration: Matthew E. McLaren

Acts 4:18-31 And when they had summoned them, they commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John answered and said to them, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to give heed to you rather than to God, you be the judge; for we cannot stop speaking about what we have seen and heard.”     

2 Chronicles 25:19 “You said, ‘Behold, you have defeated Edom.’ And your heart has become proud in boasting. Now stay at home; for why should you provoke trouble so that you, even you, would fall and Judah with you?”

1 Samuel 2:3 “Boast no more so very proudly, Do not let arrogance come out of your mouth; For the LORD is a God of knowledge, And with Him actions are weighed.

Proverbs 11:2 When pride comes, then comes dishonor, But with the humble is wisdom.

Proverbs 16:5 Everyone who is proud in heart is an abomination to the LORD; Assuredly, he will not be unpunished.

Micah 2:3 Therefore thus says the LORD, “Behold, I am planning against this family a calamity From which you cannot remove your necks; And you will not walk haughtily, For it will be an evil time.

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