The teeth and gums are known as the periodontium. These structures may develop pain and soreness due to infection or injury. Each tooth is surrounded by gum tissue called gingiva that covers the underlying jaw bone holding the teeth. Because the mouth involves eating and is responsible for chewing and biting, trauma or inflammation can easily develop throughout the oral cavity. Sore gums and ulcers result in mouth pain, problems with chewing and difficulty speaking.
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Sore gums manifest as red, swollen and tender. There may be bleeding from the gums or bad breath. Ulcers can occur anywhere in the mouth, including on the gums, inner cheeks or tongue. Mouth ulcers appear as sores with red or white borders. They may bleed or ooze fluid and can be extremely painful.
Mouth ulcers can be due to canker sores; hand, foot and mouth disease; or cold sores. According to Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital at Stanford, canker sores are caused by mouth trauma such as irritation from a broken tooth, food or biting the inside of the cheek or tongue. Hand, foot and mouth disease most commonly affects children between 1 and 5 years. It's caused by a virus and results in painful blisters in the mouth and on the feet and hands. A cold sore occurs on the inside of the mouth or on the lips. It can last for up to two weeks and is a contagious condition.
Sore gums can be the result of inflammatory conditions such as gingivitis or periodontitis. Gingivitis occurs when plaque buildup on the teeth causes excess bacteria to form. The body responds by trying to fight off bacteria, causing gum swelling and inflammation. Untreated, gingivitis leads to periodontitis, a condition that results in deep pockets in the gum tissue between the teeth. Periodontitis can spread to the jawbone, resulting in permanent tooth loss.
Treatment of sore gums and ulcers depends on the extent of the illness and may involve antibiotics or special mouthwash to rinse away bacteria. Some oral gels are applied directly to the sore to ease pain and fight infection. Cold sores or blisters related to hand, foot and mouth disease need topical treatment with antiviral medication. For gum and ulcer pain, an analgesic such as acetaminophen may be necessary until the illness resolves.
To prevent sore gums and mouth ulcers, practice regular oral hygiene by brushing after meals and flossing daily, which reduces plaque buildup. Follow a nutritious diet of fruits, vegetables, lean meat and dairy to provide vitamins and nutrients that are essential to strengthening teeth and promoting circulation to the gums. See your dentist regularly and notify him if your gums become red and swollen, or if you develop a mouth ulcer.