One of the most unpleasant symptoms of poor oral health comes in the form of bleeding, sore or otherwise swollen gums. Sometimes, there’s nothing quite as annoying as inflamed, sore gums that seem committed to making our entire day miserable… but what’s behind the core causes of these symptoms? Is there anything that can be done to prevent them? What’s the best way to predict they may be coming?
When we think of dental health, immediately visions of preventing or filling cavities are conjured up (and perhaps the nerve-wracking way some of us grasp the dental chair we’re in, preparing for the sensitivity pain that occasionally occurs), but it’s equally important to think of the gums, too. Unbeknownst to many, our gums play a major role not only in our dental health, but in overall well-being, and this applies to other living species as well, including canines. In fact, many vets submit that if left unchecked, a canine’s gum problems can have as far-reaching health issues as heart disease.
In humans, swollen, bleeding and sore gums (in most instances) are a sign of gum disease, but there are a host of other factors that could be causing the symptoms. Irrespective of the core cause of sore, painful gums, there exists an equal amount of preventative steps one can take to minimize the damage and discomfort inflicted by these anomalies.
Gum Disease: A Primer
Here’s an alarming statistic: More than three-quarters of American adults over the age of 35 experience periodontal (gum) disease. And while most people exhibiting gum disease end up experiencing the less-severe variant known as gingivitis, between five-percent and 15-percent endure a more serious type known as periodontitis.
The whole process of gum disease begins like this: When we don’t practice proper dental hygiene, bacteria in the mouth forms plaque on the teeth, and these bacteria can cause gums to become inflamed, thus yielding red, swollen or bleeding gum tissue. For those suffering with gingivitis, this inflammation has not reached the painful stage – in fact, when nipped in the bud early, gingivitis can be reversed and healed given proper oral hygiene. If left untreated, gingivitis evolves to the next stage which involves the loss of teeth…but what’s important to note here is that medical attention should be sought if one is experiencing the following symptoms (regardless of whether there’s discomfort or not):
- Changes in the way teeth fit together during biting, or in the fit of partial dentures
- Formation of deep pockets between teeth and gums
- Gums that bleed during and after brushing
- Shifting or loose teeth
- Persistent unpleasant breath or bad taste in mouth
- Receding gums
- Tender, swollen or red gums
Once gingivitis progresses to the periodontitis stage, the gums and bone that hold the teeth in place become severely weakened. What’s worse, the bacteria on the teeth release toxic substances that eat away at the gums, for lack of a better term, and cause them to become infected. This infection, along with the inflammation that results when our bodies attack foreign invaders like bacteria, can degrade the gums and bone in the jaw even further.
Gum problems can also be caused by improper brushing and flossing techniques, as many of us are tempted to brush our teeth as vigorously as we can in the quest to keep them super clean. Our gums are made of sensitive tissue, however, so brushing as violently as possible (i.e. the WRONG way) could definitely damage them. Whether one opts for a basic or electric toothbrush, it is imperative to select one with soft nylon bristles that boast “blunted” ends – even though it’s possible to locate brushes with medium or hard bristles, they may damage the enamel on teeth or encourage red and swollen gums. To be honest, why these types of toothbrushes (that is, the kinds with hard bristles) are still on the market is beyond us…
Making sure to use gentle, circular motions that massage and clean the teeth and gums is the best way to go during brushing routines; while many people still use a back-and-forth motion, this approach actually irritates and damages the gums, rendering them sore and more likely to bleed or recede.
When it comes to flossing, which is a good daily routine for removing plaque from places a toothbrush can’t reach, being gentle is the best advice. To avoid swollen or bleeding gums, carefully slide the floss up and down rather than forcing it between the teeth, following the curve of each tooth.
Primary Tips to Alleviate Sore, Swollen, and Bleeding Gums
1. Brush Your Teeth at Least Twice a Day
Following a proper brushing technique and schedule will go a long way towards alleviating painful, swollen and/or bleeding gums. If you find yourself unsure with regard to what to do, ask your dentist or dental hygienist for a quick primer at your next appointment.
2. Floss Daily
It only takes a few minutes, and it may actually be the most important step you can take in preventing or alleviating gum problems now and in the future.
3. Watch Your Diet
We’re not talking about monitoring your waistline so you can slip into that super-slinky and sexy dress you’ve been dying to wear…we’re referring to eating a balanced diet with copious amounts of vitamin C and calcium, as this can minimize the likelihood you’ll experience gum problems.
4. Drink Plenty of Water
Flushing your system with water, most notably after eating, can assist in washing food off your teeth while making it less likely that bacteria will grab hold and form gum-damaging plaque.
5. Say NO to Tobacco
Take it from us…if you smoke cigarettes or otherwise use alternate tobacco products, TRY TO QUIT.
6. Take Caution with Extremely Hot or Cold Foods and Drinks
When we experience gum problems, extremes of temperature don’t vibe all that well…you may find that you’re more comfortable consuming lukewarm or cool foods and beverages during this period.
7. Just RELAX
Stressing out raises levels of the stress hormone cortisol, increasing the chance of inflammation throughout your body…and this includes the gums.
Gums protect and support our pearly whites, as well as the tissue that holds them to the bone. When our gums aren’t healthy, we risk losing those teeth – and damaging our overall health. Thankfully, swollen and irritated gums can often be treated and completely reversed with the right dedication, oral hygiene aids and a balanced diet.