Gum Pain

Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS

What is gum pain?

Gum pain is a common symptom of canker sores on the gums that can result from mouth injury, viral infections, emotional stress, hormonal shifts, a weakened immune system, or a diet low in nutrients.

Gum pain is also a common symptom of gum disease. Inflammation of the gums (gingivitis) and periodontitis are characterized by gum infection, bleeding, and pain. Gum pain also results from swelling and tenderness due to excess fluid (edema) in the gum tissues.

Less common causes of gum pain include vitamin deficiencies and a rare disease known as Behcet’s syndrome. This disorder causes chronic inflammation in blood vessels throughout the body and may result in mouth sores that produce gum pain.

Gum pain can be a sign of a serious condition. Seek prompt medical care if your gum pain is persistent or causes you concern. Seek immediate medical care (call 911) if you experience gum pain along with high fever (higher than 101 degrees Fahrenheit) or difficulty swallowing or breathing.

What other symptoms might occur with gum pain?

Gum pain may accompany other symptoms, which vary depending on the underlying disease, disorder or condition.

Gum symptoms that may occur along with gum pain

Gum pain may accompany other symptoms affecting the gum including:

Other symptoms that may occur along with gum pain

Gum pain may accompany symptoms related to other body systems including:

  • Bleeding
  • Loosening or loss of the teeth
  • Nausea
  • Swollen lymph nodes beneath the jaw or along the neck
  • Tongue pain
  • Weakness, tiredness or light-headedness

Symptoms that might indicate a serious condition

In some cases, gum pain may occur with other symptoms that might indicate a serious condition that should be evaluated immediately in an emergency setting. Seek immediate medical care (call 911) if you, or someone you are with, have gum pain along with other serious symptoms including:

What causes gum pain?

Gum pain results from a number of factors, including dental disease and vitamin deficiencies. Dental diseases are the most common cause of gum pain. Inflammation of the gums (gingivitis) and infection of the gum line involving the teeth and bones (periodontitis) are common causes of gum pain. The pain is associated with an increase in fluid. Canker sores, which are not serious but are painful, open ulcers that often develop on the gums, are another common cause of gum pain. Canker sores are small, shallow lesions that develop on the soft tissues in the mouth and gums.

Gum pain can occur as the result of vitamin C deficiency. Scurvy (vitamin C deficiency) causes gums to become soft, tender, spongy and painful. Individuals with scurvy may lose some or all of their teeth. A rare disorder known as Behcet’s syndrome, a condition that causes chronic inflammation in blood vessels throughout the body, leads to numerous symptoms, including sores in the mouth that may cause gum pain.

Gum causes of gum pain

Gum pain may be caused by gum disorders including:

  • Bacterial infection or abscess
  • Canker sores (aphthous ulcers)
  • Gingivitis (inflammation of the gums)
  • Periodontitis (infection of the gum line involving the teeth and bones)
  • Substance abuse, especially methamphetamine use

Serious or life-threatening causes of gum pain

In some cases, gum pain may be a symptom of a serious or life-threatening condition that should be evaluated immediately by a health care provider. These include:

  • Behcet’s syndrome (disease characterized by widespread inflammation of the blood vessels)
  • Scurvy

Questions for diagnosing the cause of gum pain

To diagnose your condition, your doctor or licensed health care practitioner will ask you several questions related to your gum pain including:

  • How long have you felt gum pain?
  • Where do you feel the gum pain?
  • Do you have any other symptoms?
  • What medications are you taking?

What are the potential complications of gum pain?

Because gum pain can be due to serious diseases, failure to seek treatment can result in serious complications and permanent damage. Once the underlying cause is diagnosed, it is important for you to follow the treatment plan that you and your health care professional design specifically for you to reduce the risk of potential complications including:

  • Abscess or spread of infection
  • Chronic pain/discomfort
  • Difficulty speaking
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Endocarditis (heart infection originating in the mouth)
  • Gingivitis (inflammation of the gums)
  • Heart disease
  • Periodontitis (infection of the gum line involving the teeth and bones)
  • Sepsis (life-threatening bacterial blood infection)
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  1. Periodontal (gum) disease: causes, symptoms, and treatments. National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research. http://www.nidcr.nih.gov/OralHealth/Topics/GumDiseases/PeriodontalGumDisease.htm
  2. Gingivitis. PubMed Health, a service of the NLM from the NIH. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0002051/.
  3. Domino FJ (Ed.) Five Minute Clinical Consult. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 2013.
Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2021 Jan 7
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