How to Treat Gum Pain

Medically Reviewed by Neha Pathak, MD on February 09, 2023
4 min read

Many things can cause your gums to hurt, but not all of them require a trip to the dentist.

Sore gums can be a sign that you brush your teeth too hard. Other times, braces or dentures can irritate your gums. Hormone changes related to your period, pregnancy, or menopause can also led to swollen,painful gums. Gum pain can be a sign of a more serious problem like gum disease.

Sometimes, things you can do at home can give you relief from sore gums. It can also help you know whether you need help from your dentist or other health care professional.

Try these simple home remedies for achy gums:

  • Rinse your mouth with warm salt water.
  • Use only toothbrushes with soft or extra-soft bristles.
  • Use over-the-counter (OTC) painkillers, such as acetaminophen as the label directs.

Other OTC products to treat sore gums include:

  • Mouthwashes containing hydrogen peroxide 
  • Gels that you apply directly to the sore gums

If your gums hurt and you have a white coating on your tongue or cheeks, you could have an infection called thrush. It’s a type of yeast infection. Eating yogurt with live cultures can help. But see a doctor or dentist if it doesn’t clear up.

There are many reasons why your gum or gums might hurt. But sometimes, gum problems don’t cause pain right away. The possible reasons range from very minor to very serious. They include:

Gum disease. The first signs of gum disease (also called periodontitis) 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 during the early stage, called gingivitis.

 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 your mouth, including your gums. They’re not contagious. They usually show up as red splotches in your mouth, but they can have a white coating, too. 

Canker sores tend to go away on their own within a week or two. To ease pain in the meantime, avoid spicy, salty, and acidic foods. You can also use the home remedies above or try an over-the-counter treatment like a numbing gel or coating agent. If your canker sore is larger than a half-inch, doesn’t heal after a couple of weeks, or interferes with eating and drinking, see your doctor or dentist. 

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

Because smokeless tobacco is placed between the cheek and gum, it can cause more harm to your mouth than cigarettes. Your gums can 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. Hormones can affect your gums at different times in your life. During puberty, more blood flows to your gums, and they may feel swollen, tender, or painful. 

You may notice pain during your menstrual periods. When 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 an abscessed tooth.

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.

If your gums hurt or bleed for more than a week, see your dentist so they can check you for signs of gum disease. If not treated, periodontitis can cause painful abscesses and lead to tooth loss. Gum disease has also been linked to heart disease, so it’s very important to take care of your mouth.

See your dentist if you have ongoing gum pain or any of these symptoms:

  • Bleeding gums
  • Red, swollen gums
  • Gums that pull back from your teeth
  • Dentures that don’t fit right anymore
  • Pain when you chew
  • Loose teeth
  • Sensitivity to hot or cold

To prevent gum disease, brush, floss, and get your teeth cleaned regularly. The American Dental Association recommends brushing your teeth twice a day and flossing once a day.