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The Most Common Causes of Gum Pain In Houston, TX

Gum pain can be a huge indicator that something is seriously wrong. Identifying its source can be crucial to your smile’s long term health.

By Jennifer
Photography by Pete

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Cut and bleeding gums, pain while chewing, pus-filled periodontal abscesses—our dentists have seen them all here at Nu Dentistry. We often have patients come in asking, “Why do my gums hurt?” but the source isn’t always so apparent as a sharp, broken tooth or brushing your teeth a little too hard at night. Your gums are incredibly sensitive, and there are a wide variety of reasons why your gums have suddenly flared in pain. Some of the most common causes include:

  • Gum disease
  • Canker sores
  • Hormone changes
  • Tobacco
  • Dental abscesses
  • Oral cancer

Gum Disease

Gum disease is an infection and inflammation of the gums, most commonly caused by poor oral hygiene. When you don’t regularly brush and floss or you skip out on your regular 6-month dental cleaning, bacteria and plaque build up on your teeth and begin to spread beneath your gums.

There are four main stages of gum disease: gingivitis, slight periodontitis, moderate periodontitis, and advanced periodontitis. Only gingivitis is curable and can be fully reversed in two weeks. Gingivitis treatment needs only consistent healthy dental hygiene habits. A more extensive gum disease treatment by one of our talented periodontists is required in later stages. Standard procedures include deep cleaning, gum flap surgery, and tissue grafts.

If you recognize any of these gum disease symptoms, please see one of our Houston dental office for a comprehensive exam and consultation:

  • Painful, swollen gums
  • Red and tender gums
  • Gums that bleed when brushing or flossing
  • Receding gums
  • Abscess, or pus between your teeth
  • Persistent bad breath
  • Change in fit of bite
  • Loose teeth

Canker Sores

A canker sore is an open mouth ulcer that often forms on the base of your gums or inside the lips and cheeks. These sores are usually white or red at their center and surrounded by red, inflamed gum tissue. They can be very painful, but they aren’t contagious.

No one is quite sure what causes canker sores, but there are several possible reasons:

  • Mouth injuries
  • Allergic reaction to certain foods or bacteria
  • Hormonal shifts in women during menstruation
  • Stress
  • Celiac disease
  • Weak immune system
  • Vitamin B-12, zinc, iron, or calcium deficiencies

Canker sores often go away on their own in one to two weeks, though larger and deeper ones can take up to six weeks to heal. An easy canker sore treatment for both gum pain relief and quicker healing is rinsing with a salt or baking soda water mix for 15 to 30 seconds to allow your canker sore to dry out. However, if your canker sore is larger than average, lasts more than two weeks, or is recurring before old ones heal, you should see our Houston dentists at Nu Dentistry for professional consultation and treatment.

Hormone Changes

Women can experience gum pain during one of the multiple periods of hormonal changes that they experience throughout their life:

  • Puberty. Increased blood flow to your gums can cause them to feel swollen or painful. Some teenagers may also develop painful canker sores.
  • Menstruation. For some women, their gums may bleed or their salivary glands may swell in the days before their period.
  • Pregnancy. A woman’s hormones are in flux during pregnancy, particularly between the second and eighth months, causing swelling, bleeding, and tenderness.
  • Menopause. During menopause, many women experience dry mouth. Dry gums can cause soreness and bleeding, and a lack of saliva makes it easier for plaque to form and cavities or gum disease to develop.

Tobacco Use

Smoking tobacco products like cigarettes, cigars, and chewing tobacco can damage your gums, causing irritation, pain, and bleeding. Smokeless tobacco can also make its mark on your mouth and cause even more damage as they are often placed directly on the gum.

Tobacco use leaves you at further risk for:

  • Gum disease
  • Receding gums
  • Mouth sores
  • Oral cancer


A dental abscess is a pocket of pus that forms in the gums or base of a tooth, usually due to bacterial infection. Bacteria often build up and infect the gums due to severe cavities and gum disease. With untreated cavities, bacteria and plaque burrow their way through your tooth until they escape into the gums through the root. Gum disease occurs when plaque and bacteria spread to the surface of your tooth below the gum line.

There are three main types of dental abscesses:

  • Periapical abscesses form at the tip of a tooth’s root typically during late-stage tooth decay.
  • Periodontal abscesses form pockets of pus between the teeth and gums. They are often located along the gum line since they develop with the advanced periodontitis stage of gum disease.
  • Gingival abscesses occur only on the gums, leaving the tooth that the gums hold in place untouched. This type often occurs due to an impact with a foreign object causing an infection of the gums.

If a dental abscess forms, it is a severe dental emergency in need of immediate treatment. When an abscess is involved, common procedures include abscess drainage, root canals, antibiotics, tooth extraction, and removal of foreign objects. The infected gum tissue may also need to be removed through surgery.

Oral Cancer

Oral cancer is a cancer of the mouth and throat, with tumors, growths, and lesions that usually appear in and around the tongue, lips, inner cheeks, gums, and roof and floor of the mouth. More than 50,000 cases are diagnosed every year, and an estimated 10,750 patients will die, most often due to late diagnosis. Common symptoms of oral cancer include:

  • Swelling or lumps on and around the lips, gums, inner cheeks, and other areas of the mouth
  • Unexplained mouth bleeding
  • White and red patches or sores in the mouth
  • Face, neck, or mouth numbness or tenderness
  • Persistent sore throat or a “frog” in your throat
  • Difficulty eating, swallowing, speaking
  • Ear pain
  • Change in bite
  • Sudden weight loss

While many patients with oral cancer experience gum pain, many don’t seek treatment or a diagnosis until it’s progressed to its later, more critical stages. Please see our dental office for an exam and consultation at the first signs of developing oral cancer.

Frequently Asked Questions

What causes gum inflammation?

The leading cause of gum inflammation is gum disease, which is most commonly a result of poor oral hygiene. When you fail to brush and floss your teeth regularly, bacteria and plaque can build up beneath your gums, causing redness and irritation. However, other gum disease factors include tobacco use and hormone changes.

When should I be concerned about bleeding gums?

Bleeding gums are fairly common and can be caused by brushing your teeth too enthusiastically or wearing ill-fitting dentures too long. However, you should seek one of our Nu Dentistry periodontists if the bleeding is frequent, excessive, or caused by a chipped or fractured tooth. Excessive and recurring bleeding can be warning signs of gum disease or oral cancer. Sharp, broken teeth should be thoroughly examined not just for repair but to ensure that there is no infection or further complications in the tooth.

Why do I keep getting canker sores in my mouth?

If you frequently develop canker sores, it can be due to a wide range of possible causes. Your diet, genetic predisposition, hormones, and existing diseases and illnesses you may have can leave you more likely to get canker sores. How hard you brush your teeth or even what toothpaste you use may be a factor as well.

How long can an abscess go untreated?

As soon as you notice a dental abscess forming, you should immediately see one of our Nu Dentistry dentists. By the time an abscess develops in your gum or at the root of your tooth, you are in the last and most critical stage of either gum disease or tooth decay. At this point, your tooth is on the brink of death, determining whether or not responsive emergency treatment can save it. Without quick action, the tooth will need to be extracted, and the infection may spread elsewhere in the mouth and body. It can even be potentially life-threatening.

Who is most at risk of mouth cancer?

Men over the age of 55 with poor nutrition and dental hygiene habits, particularly those who smoke or drink alcohol, are most at risk of developing oral cancer. Patients with a weakened immune system or HPV are also at a higher risk.

What is the leading cause of oral cancer?

Tobacco use, including cigarettes, pipes, chewing tobacco, and cigars, is the #1 cause of oral cancer. Smoking is so damaging to your health that even secondhand smoke can put you at risk for developing oral cancer. The second leading cause is frequent, heavy alcohol consumption. Put together, both tobacco and alcohol can dramatically increase your risk.

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