The hard and soft tissues of your mouth have contrasting characters. While the enamel which covers the teeth is the hardest substance in the body, the gingiva or gums which support the teeth are soft, moist and delicate.
Gum tissue can be injured easily. Injury can happen due to trauma, such as sports-related, etc., or accidental, such as fall, etc.
Also, you can experience self-inflicted injury to gums due to carelessness, some unintentional habit, and psychological disorder.
All these injuries to gums result in irritated gums. The most common causes by which you can self-inflict injury to your gums can be due to common everyday items like your toothbrush, floss, toothpicks, etc.
Also, certain food items, such as potato chips, popcorn, sugarcane, and nuts, can injure your gums and result in irritated gums.
What is gum irritation?
Gum irritation is a pesky issue and can occur due to a number of reasons. Any signs of discomfort and deviation from the normal state may indicate that your gums are irritated.
When you see signs of gum injury, such as swelling, burns, ulcers or receded gums, consult a dentist. Your dentist will identify the habits and activities that may be harming your sensitive gum tissue without you realizing them.
Causes of self-inflicted gum injury
Gum injuries have many causes attributed to it but some of them are self-inflicted.
Gum diseases that are produced by non-plaque induced causes, such as traumatic injuries may have thermal causes, chemical causes, and physical causes. (1)
You may think that if you brush your teeth vigorously or with a lot of pressure, then you may achieve cleaner and healthier gums and teeth.
Also, you may think that frequent toothbrushing, and choosing a hard-bristled toothbrush can give you better result compared to brushing twice a day or using a soft-bristled toothbrush.
But unfortunately, all such notions are incorrect. In fact, vigorous brushing, hard-bristled toothbrush, frequent brushing, etc. can cause tooth sensitivity, abrasion of the tooth surface and recession of gum margins. (2)
Faulty flossing technique
If you floss your teeth vigorously with a lot of pressure, then it may lead to gum irritation and gum bleeding. This does not mean that you avoid flossing your teeth, rather correct way of flossing is must to maintain good oral hygiene.
At-home teeth bleaching
People are obsessed with pearly white teeth as shown in the commercial advertisements. They resort to bleaching techniques without even knowing if they are an ideal candidate or not.
Peroxide-based whitening products does whiten your teeth but also irritates your gums when they come in contact.
Also, over-the-counter whitening trays do not fit correctly in your mouth and allow the peroxide to come in contact with your gums. (3)
If you are allergic to certain pharmaceutical and nonpharmaceutical products, then they can cause chemical burns on the gums.
Some chemical agents causing gum irritation are
- Regular daily use products like toothpaste and mouthwashes. Excessive use of alcohol-containing mouthwash causes gum irritation.
- Topical application of medications such as aspirin, chlorpromazine, promazine, tetracycline
- Recreational drugs such as cocaine, MDMA
- Tobacco-based products like snuff
- Nonpharmaceutical substances such as garlic, clove, mint
- Ingesting acids as a deliberate act of self-harm. (4)
Choice of diet
Sometimes the food that you consume may also cause gum irritation.
Consumption of very hot liquid or solid food may cause burns. Crunchy items like potato crisps can scrape off your gum lining. Popcorn kernels, sugarcane, and other such food items get lodged within the gums and cause gum irritation.
Also, starvation may cause vitamin and mineral deficiencies that are manifested in the gums.
These days, body piercings are a popular form of self-expression. Piercing of tongue, lip or cheek may look cool. But these piercings interfere with speech, chewing and swallowing.
Also, oral piercings can lead to cracked and sensitive teeth and fillings. They may cause serious gum injury.
When foreign bodies get lodged in your gums, they may lead to irritation and infection. It may ultimately form a gingival abscess. Popcorn kernels, toothpick splinters, and fingernails are a few of the common causes of this problem. (5)
Self-Injurious Behaviour (SIB)
Self-injurious behavior (SIB) is a condition which results in the infliction of physical damage and pain upon oneself.
Gingivitis artefacta is intentional self-injury of the gums, in which the wounds are inflicted usually by one‘s fingernail. This disorder is seen mostly in younger age groups.
This is a seriously deleterious condition and should be immediately taken care of by a medical specialist. (6)
Treatment or Precautions
What is the right technique to brush the teeth?
You should know the right way to go about tooth brushing and not just vigorously scrub your teeth back and forth in horizontal strokes.
Brush your teeth twice every day using a soft-bristled toothbrush. The shape and size of your toothbrush should fit in your mouth so that you can reach all surfaces of your teeth.
Replace your toothbrush once in every two to three months, or sooner if the bristles are worn out.
A particular tooth brushing technique called Modified Bass technique is ideal for maintaining healthy teeth and gums. (7)
- Position your toothbrush at a 45-degree angle to your gumline.
- Now gently move the brush back and forth in short strokes in a vibratory type of action.
- Make sure to brush all the surfaces of the teeth thoroughly.
- To brush the inside surfaces of the front teeth, position the brush vertically and brush in up-and-down strokes.
What is the right way to floss?
- Take approximately 18 inches of floss and wind it around the middle fingers of both your hands.
- Hold the floss tightly using your thumbs and forefingers.
- Now, insert it carefully between your teeth.
- Curve the floss against the side of your tooth.
- Move the floss up and down gently without snapping it.
How to use at-home teeth whitening systems carefully?
There are methods of safely whitening teeth at home without irritating your gums.
Visit a dentist, and he can design a custom-fit whitening tray that will ensure that the peroxide only comes in contact with your teeth and not your gums.
What to do if a burn occurs?
To prevent burns avoid consuming very hot food and beverages. Be particularly careful while feeding children. In the case of a burn immediately rinse your mouth with cold water.
Chemical burns can be treated by eliminating the cause. For example, if it is a topical agent that you are using to relieve tooth pain that has caused the burn, immediately terminate the use.
Visit a dentist who will prescribe you certain medications that will help the symptoms to subside.
What to do if a foreign body gets embedded in your gums?
If you notice an object like some sharp food particles trapped in your gums, try inserting a segment of dental floss gently and move it up and down against a nearby tooth to release it.
You can also try working it out lightly with a toothpick. Avoid too much pressure as this may push the object deeper or further irritate the gums.
If these techniques don’t help, see a dentist as soon as possible to prevent infection from developing.
If you neglect to remove the foreign object, you may develop a painful swelling. This is called a gingival abscess.
This occurs when an infection develops and your gums get filled with pus. Your dentist will be able to drain this abscess and put you on a dose of antibiotic therapy.
Take home message
Our mouth is a vital organ which performs several functions such as speech, chewing, etc. Also, gums are one of the most sensitive parts of our oral cavity.
It can easily get irritated due to self-induced injuries that can result due to wrong flossing, over brushing, etc.
Any irritation to a known cause should always be prevented by getting rid of the causative agent. If you have gum irritation and you are unable to figure out the reason, please visit a dentist immediately for appropriate care.