Swollen Gums, A Serious Threat To Your Teeth

A recent poll of 1,000 people over 35 done by Harris Interactive Inc. found that 60 percent of adults surveyed knew little, if anything, about swollen gums and gum disease, the symptoms, available treatments, and — most importantly — the consequences. And 39 percent do not visit a dentist regularly. Yet, swollen gums and gum disease is the leading cause of adult tooth loss.

What Is (Are) Swollen Gums?

Swollen gums are irritated and swollen due to a plaque or calculus (tartar) buildup along the gum line. Swollen gums is quite common and may involve one or many papillae. Occasionally, the gums swell significantly, obscuring the teeth altogether.

Common Causes of Swollen Gums

Swollen gums may result from one of two mechanisms: an increase in the size of existing gum cells (hypertrophy) or an increase in their number (hyperplasia). This common sign may involve one or many papillae — the triangular bits of gum between adjacent teeth.

Swollen gums usually results from the effects of phenytoin; less commonly, from nutritional deficiency or certain systemic disorders. Physiologic gum swelling and bleeding may occur during the first and second trimesters of pregnancy when hormonal changes make the gums highly vascular; even slight irritation causes swelling and gives the papillae a characteristic raspberry hue. Irritating dentures may also cause swollen gums associated with red, soft, movable masses on the gums.

Prevention of Swollen Gums

  • Use a tartar-control toothpaste that contains fluoride.
  • Use an antiseptic mouthwash, such as Listerine, or an antiplaque mouthwash.
  • Chew sugar-free gum after meals if you are unable to brush your teeth.
  • Carefully use a toothpick after meals if you are unable to brush your teeth right away.
  • Do not use illegal drugs, such as methamphetamines, which cause swollen gums

Home Care of Swollen Gums

  • If your gums are mildly swollen and red, use a tartar-control toothpaste that contains fluoride and an antiseptic mouthwash, such as Listerine, or a mouthwash that contains fluoride.
  • Make sure you brush after meals and snacks and floss every day.
  • If you cannot brush after eating, chew sugar-free gum, use a tooth pick, or rinse your mouth with warm salt water.
  • You can make your own salt water by mixing 1 tsp (5 g) of salt in a medium-sized glass [8 fl oz (240 mL)] of warm water.
  • Tobacco can cause many gum problems, decreases your ability to fight infection of your gums, and delays healing. Do not smoke or use other tobacco products to avoid swollen gums.

Call Your Health Care Provider If

  • Swelling is severe, persistent, or is accompanied by other unexplained symptoms
  • Discomfort is associated with swollen gums

Swollen Gums Examination

For swollen gums medical history will be obtained and a physical examination performed.

Medical history questions documenting swollen gums in detail may include questions about quality of your swollen gums, time of disease being, your oral hygiene and eating habits.

The physical examination for swollen gums will include a detailed examination of the mouth, teeth, and gums. Diagnostic tests that may be performed include blood studies such as a CBC or blood differential.

The good news is that in most people gum disease, that usually begins with swelling of gums is preventable. Attention to everyday oral hygiene (brushing and flossing), coupled with professional cleanings twice a year, could be all that’s needed to prevent gum disease — and actually reverse the early stage — and help you keep your teeth for a lifetime.