What Causes Gum Pain?

Medically Reviewed by Evan Frisbee, DMD on October 31, 2021

When you have a toothache, you probably head right for the dentist. But what do you do when you have problems with your gums?

There are many reasons why your gums might hurt. But a lot of gum problems don’t cause pain right away. The possible reasons range from very minor to very serious.

Gum disease

The first signs of this are bleeding, swelling, and redness. They usually happen when you don’t brush or floss your teeth well or often enough. You might not feel pain at this early stage.

If you don’t do a better job brushing and flossing, your gum disease could get worse. Over time, your gums might start to pull away from your teeth, creating little pockets. Tiny pieces of food can get stuck in them, causing infection. This can cause the teeth to loosen or the bone holding them in place to break down, which leads to tooth loss. You may or may not feel any pain at this point.

Canker sores

These can appear anywhere in the mouth, including the gums. They usually show up as red splotches in the mouth, but they can have a white coating, too. There’s no special treatment for canker sores, but they tend to go away on their own within a week or two. If they don’t, see your doctor or dentist.


If you smoke or use “smokeless” products like chewing tobacco, dip, or snuff, you’re more likely to have gum disease.

And because smokeless tobacco is usually placed between the cheek and gum, it can cause more harm to your mouth than cigarettes can. Your gums could pull away from your teeth, and sores could form inside your mouth and on your gums. It could also lead to oral cancer.

Hormonal changes

If you’re a woman, hormones can affect your gums at different times in your life. During puberty, more blood flows to your gums, and they could feel swollen, tender or painful. They might also feel a little sore during your period.

If you’re pregnant, your hormone levels surge and can affect your gums. Talk to your doctor if you notice that your gums bleed or hurt.

Once you hit menopause, your hormone levels shift again. Your gums could bleed, change colors, burn, or hurt.

Abscessed Tooth

When you have an infection by the root of your tooth, it forms a pus pocket, or abscess. These don’t always hurt, but many do. Some abscessed teeth also cause the gums to swell. If your gums hurt or are swollen, see your dentist. You may need a root canal to treat it.

Oral cancer

Oral cancer

This can start on your tongue, inner cheek, tonsils, or gums. You or your dentist may see the cancer, because it looks like a sore in your mouth that just won’t heal. It might not be painful at first. But keep an eye on it -- and any sores in your mouth or on your gums. Head to the dentist if they don’t heal in a couple of weeks.

Show Sources


American Academy of Periodontology: “Dispelling myths about gum disease: The truth behind healthy teeth and gums,” “Types of gum disease,” “Gum disease symptoms,” “Gum disease and women.”

American Academy of Family Physicians: “Canker sores.” “The dangers of dip,” “Explore quit methods.”

American Association of Endodontists: “Abscessed teeth.”

American Cancer Society: “Cancer Facts & Figures 2016,” “Signs and symptoms of oral cavity and oropharyngeal cancer.”

© 2021 WebMD, LLC. All rights reserved. View privacy policy and trust info