Mouth Sores and Swollen Gums: What Do They Mean?

Mouth sores and swollen gums are common with a variety of causes like infections, poor oral hygiene, etc. Learn possible causes and proper treatments.

Inflammation and soreness in the mucosal layer of the mouth, known as stomatitis, is a serious condition and may affect a person’s ability to talk, eat and sleep. Stomatitis can occur on the gums, palate, tongue, lips, the inside of cheeks, or anywhere inside the mouth.

Swollen gums may be due to a number of different causes, but it is important to take care if your gums are swollen, as chronic gum swelling may cause permanent damage to the teeth and gums.

What Causes Swollen Gums and Mouth Sores?

1. Oral Herpes

One common cause of stomatitis, particularly in children, is infection with herpes simplex virus (HSV). Oral HSV infection can produce a number of unpleasant symptoms, including pain, fever, irritability, dribbling and difficulty swallowing, as well as swollen gums. Blisters may form in the mouth and, upon popping, produce ulcers. Although oral herpes is a recurring condition, the first episode is often the worst.

HSV infection is usually treated with an antiviral medication: acyclovir, valaciclovir, famciclovir or penciclovir, in either pill or cream form.

In addition, you can take the following actions to alleviate symptoms:

  • Eat a bland diet with plain, easy-to-swallow foods and non-acidic drinks
  • Painkillers may be useful
  • Make sure that oral hygiene is maintained by regularly brushing your teeth
  • Take plenty of rest

You also need to be careful that the condition does not spread to others, especially children, as it is highly contagious.

2. Canker Sores

Canker sores, also known as mouth ulcers, are small, white round lesions, and may develop anywhere within the mouth, including on the gums. The condition may present as an individual ulcer or occur in clusters, and can be very painful. A canker sore will typically last for about one week before healing over; however, some lesions may persist and require treatment. It can also cause your gum to be swollen.

There are several different types of treatment for canker sores:

  • Oral medications
  • Topical creams may be used to soothe the pain and promote healing
  • A medicated mouthwash containing the steroid dexamethasone can lessen inflammation
  • Finally, a doctor can cauterize the sores, destroying the tissue with a heated instrument

3. Chemotherapy

The development of swollen, painful and bleeding gums is a common side-effect of cancer chemotherapy. Cancer treatment may also cause in generalized stomatitis, resulting in painful sores throughout the mouth.

4. Lack of Nutrients

Nutritional deficiencies, particularly a lack of vitamins B and C, may also predispose somebody to swollen gums. For example, vitamin C is important in the maintenance and repair of gums and teeth. By eating a balanced diet, you will greatly decrease the likelihood of developing gum issues.

5. Other Causes

There are many other possible causes of swollen gums and mouth sores, including:

  • Having gum disease (gingivitis) or other type of mouth infection
  • Injury to the mouth, for example by biting the cheek or eating a sharp piece of food
  • Stress and anxiety
  • Sleep deprivation
  • Poor nutrition
  • The sudden loss of weight
  • Systemic disorders
  • Tobacco use
  • Eating particular foods, such as coffee, chocolate, cheese, potatoes, citrus fruit and nuts
  • Mouth ulcers and swollen gums may also occur as a result of lowered immunity due to certain medications, nutritional deficiency (folate or vitamin B12), cold and flu infections, hormonal fluctuations or mechanical irritation.
  • There is also an association between the development of infectious mononucleosis, known as mono and swollen gums.

How to Deal with Swollen Gums and Mouth Sores

Mouth sores are generally self-limiting, and will clear by themselves within two weeks. If an underlying cause, for example a bacterial, fungal or viral infection, can be identified, specific treatment will be prescribed. If no particular cause is diagnosed, therapy will commonly focus on relieving the patient’s symptoms.

The pain and irritation caused by swollen gums and mouth sores may be alleviated using the following remedies:

  • Maintaining good oral hygiene. Brushing teeth twice a day is essential for a clean mouth. Make sure that you use the correct brushing technique, and are gentle when you brush or floss. Your dentist or dental hygienist will be able to advise you on the proper method for brushing.
  • Avoiding any food or drink that may irritate the mouth, such as salty or spicy foods, hot beverages or food, and any citrus-based food or drink.
  • Rinsing the mouth out with saltwater.
  • Taking painkillers, such as paracetamol or ibuprofen.
  • Increasing fluid intake.
  • If you frequently suffer from mouth ulcers, this may be evidence of an underlying condition, such as folate or vitamin B12 deficiency. Tackling the root problem may help to prevent subsequent outbreaks.
  • Stress and anxiety may predispose a person to gum inflammation by increasing the levels of cortisol, the stress hormone. Therefore taking time out for relaxation is important.

Can It Be Strep Throat?

As strep throat is very common and people with swollen gums and mouth sores may wonder if they have strep throat. In fact, strep throat rarely causes mouth sores.

One possible cause of swollen gum sore throat may be infection of the oral cavity with Streptococcus bacteria, also known as strep throat. There are many general signs and symptoms of strep throat, including the following:

  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Fatigue
  • Headache
  • Fever
  • Rash
  • Throat pain
  • Stomach pain and vomiting – this is particularly common in young children
  • Tender, swollen lymph glands in the neck
  • Small red spots on either the soft or hard palate at the back of the roof of the mouth
  • Tonsils that appear red and swollen; white patches and streaks of pus may be visible

However, many of these signs and symptoms are non-specific; your doctor will need to perform a test to identify Streptococcus bacteria in order to confirm the diagnosis. It is also important to note that infection with Streptococcus may not cause any signs or symptoms, and a person may only be a carrier of the bacteria.

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