Why Do My Gums Hurt?

Causes of Gum Sensitivity and What To Do About It

Gum sensitivity can be very irritating and asking why it’s happening is a great question for your dentist. Figuring out the cause of your gum sensitivity will tell you if you need to worry about a trip to the dentist or if you need to adjust your dental health routine. 

In this post, we’ll cover:

  • Gingivitis
  • Periodontitis
  • Oral Infections
  • Causes of Gum Sensitivity
A woman clutches her face while dealing with gum pain.
Poor oral hygiene, poor diet, hormonal changes, stress, and tobacco use can all cause gum sensitivity. 


What Happens?

Gingivitis means inflammation of the gums. You probably have gingivitis if your gums are red, swollen, painful, and bleed when you brush your teeth. 

Gingivitis is usually caused by a buildup of plaque or bacteria between your teeth and gums which cause an immune response. Gingivitis can be so mild you hardly notice it, but it can also lead to destruction of gum tissue or even tooth loss. 

What Can I Do?

A visit to your dentist is always a good idea for improving your oral hygiene. If you’re experiencing gingivitis and don’t think you can remove the necessary plaque or bacteria on your own, schedule an appointment to get your mouth clean and healthy. 

You can also improve your oral hygiene to treat gingivitis at home. Your regular oral hygiene routine should include: 

  • Brushing at least twice a day
  • Flossing at least once a day
  • Using an antiseptic mouthwash

Adding a salt water rinse is another option for solving gingivitis. Salt acts as a natural disinfectant in your mouth, A salt water rinse can only be used temporarily because prolonged use negatively affects tooth enamel.

Instructions for a Salt Water Rinse

  1. Dissolve ½ to ¾ teaspoon in a glass of lukewarm water.
  2. Swish the salt water solution in your mouth for 30 seconds.
  3. Use two to three times a day to relieve inflamed gums and reduce bacteria
A woman holds her mouth open at the dentist, showing her gums.
Make sure you clean your whole mouth, including hard to reach and uneven spots, to avoid gum sensitivity.


What Happens?

Gingivitis can develop into periodontitis, or gum disease. Gum disease is a major cause of tooth loss in adults, so you don’t want to ignore gum disease if you think you might have it. Some symptoms of periodontitis are:

  • Bleeding gums while brushing 
  • Red, swollen, and painful gums
  • Gums receding away from teeth
  • Bad breath or bad taste that doesn’t go away
  • Loose or separating permanent teeth
  • Change in how your bite feels
  • Change in how partial dentures fit 

What Can I Do?

Good oral hygiene is essential for preventing periodontitis. Gum disease will reoccur if these good oral hygiene practices are not maintained, so talk to your dentist about what habits you should include in your routine and then stick with them to keep your mouth healthy.

Make sure you clean all the spaces and crevices in your mouth. Pay attention to uneven spaces, such as crowded teeth, crooked teeth, crowns, dentures, and fillings. 

It’s also important to use an antibacterial mouthwash to reduce bacteria and inflammation. 

Your dentist might also recommend one or more of these treatments for gum disease

  • Scaling – Scaling is when a dentist cleans below the gumline. Your dentist will break up and remove the plaque around your gums using hand tools or an ultrasonic device. Usually it is recommended to have dental cleanings twice a year, but if your mouth needs more work you may need more dental visits. 
  • Medications – Your dentist may decide you need prescription antibacterial mouthwash, which is used to reduce bacteria. There are also some options for antibiotics, like antibiotic gel applied to the gums or oral antibiotics. These medications are all designed to fight infection and bacteria.
  • Surgery – If you have an advanced, aggressive case of periodontitis and improved oral hygiene and medication haven’t worked you may need surgery. In a flap surgery, your dentist lifts back your gums to remove plaque and tartar and then suters your gum back in place. 
A woman has her teeth cleaned to keep her teeth and gums healthy and pain free.
A cleaning from your dentist can help solve your gum sensitivity.

Oral Infections

What Happens?

If you can pinpoint your gum pain to a specific location, a canker sore or mouth ulcer might be the source of your gum sensitivity. A canker sore usually looks like a raised white or yellow spot surrounded by red. 

What Can I Do?

Canker sores will go away untreated after one to three weeks, or in extreme cases up to six weeks. Using antibacterial mouthwash or a salt water rinse helps speed up the healing process and eases the pain and sensitivity caused by a canker sore. 

You can also buy topical treatment products. Look for hydrogen peroxide rinses, products that contain benzocaine, or fluocinonide. Your dentist can also prescribe mouthwashes, ointments, and other medications that fight bacteria and soothe inflammation.  

A woman brushes her teeth to keep her gums healthy and prevent sensitivity.
Good oral hygiene is your first defense against gum sensitivity. 

Causes of Gum Sensitivity

Risk Factors

Causes of gum sensitivity are easy to identify. These are some things that put you more at risk for gingivitis and periodontitis. Even if they don’t result in those conditions, changes in these things could lead to improvements in your gum sensitivity.

Brushing Too Hard

Although brushing is often the solution to gum sensitivity, it can also be the cause! Brushing too hard or too aggressively can damage your gums and eventually lead to receding gums. One way to tell if you’re brushing too hard is to look at how flat or beat up your toothbrush is. 


Poor nutrition can be a significant factor causing gum sensitivity. If you don’t give your body the proper vitamins and nutrients, it can’t defend itself and stay healthy. 

On the extreme end of a poor diet, a severe lack of vitamin C can cause scurvy. Symptoms of vitamin C deficiency include symptoms similar to gingivitis and periodontitis–red, swollen, bleeding gums.


Women going through hormonal changes sometimes experience gum sensitivity. Hormonal changes include puberty, menstruation, pregnancy, and menopause. These hormone fluctuations can cause increased blood flow, which results in sensitive gums.

When you’re very stressed your body has high levels of the hormone cortisol. High levels of cortisol for an extended period of time leads to inflammation all around the body, including the gums.

Tobacco Use

Using tobacco also damages gums, causing gum sensitivity and leading to gum disease.

A woman talks to her dentist about gum sensitivity and what to do about it.
Talk to your dentist about possible causes of your gum sensitivity and what to do about it. 

If you’re experiencing unpleasant gum sensitivity, redness, pain, swelling, and bleeding, examine the role of these factors in your life to see how you can improve your oral health and heal your gums. You can also talk to your dentist about your risk for gum disease to prevent damage and keep your mouth as healthy as possible. 

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