There are several conditions that can cause infected gums. The most common cause is an infection that is secondary to gum disease. Cavities or trauma can also result in infection of the gums. While the causes of infection may vary, the symptoms can be the same. Determining and eliminating the underlying cause of infection may be necessary to stop recurring infections.
Gum disease can occur due to a variety of reasons, but according to the American Academy of Periodontology the main reason is inadequate oral hygiene. Also called periodontitis, gum disease causes a variety of symptoms. Symptoms start out mild and include red and swollen gums that may bleed during brushing or flossing. Left untreated, the gums can form pockets or recesses that are filled with pus. This is caused by bacteria beneath the gums. The presence of the bacteria causes the infection to persist and worsen. Deep cleaning beneath the gums and antibiotic treatment may be necessary to get rid of the bacteria and keep the gums from getting reinfected. You may still have infected gums, despite an absence of pus or pockets in the gums. Bleeding and swelling may be the only symptoms you have. In severe infections of the gums caused by gum disease, you may develop loose teeth and bone loss. The appearance of infected gums due to gum disease can vary, but generally includes puffiness or uneven alignment along the teeth in addition to the other symptoms listed.
When a cavity is left untreated it can begin to cause the gums around it to become infected. An abscess can form when the pulp, or soft tissue inside the tooth, is damaged. Without a root canal or removal of the affected tooth, pus will build up in the root of the tooth and spread to the gums. The infection can also spread to the jaw bone and throat if left untreated for an extended period of time. Without antibiotic treatment and removal of the affected part of the tooth the gums and surrounding area will continue to be infected. The abscess will appear as a bulge in the gums next to the tooth. Pus may leak from it on its own or if you apply pressure to it. If the infection spreads to the gums or other tissues, you may experience fever and nausea.
The gums are made of delicate tissue and can easily be damaged. While trauma sounds dramatic, it can be caused by something as simple as eating hard or crunchy foods. Gums can be torn or gouged by chips or hard candy. They can also experience burns from hot or acidic foods. Gum trauma may appear as a tear or gouge. Burns may look like rough or raw spots. Once the gum is damaged it becomes more easily infected. Bacteria can more easily pass through the torn or burned tissue and multiply beneath the gums. Once bacteria penetrate below the gum line, they multipy, causing inflammation and ultimately infection. Carefully cleaning the affected area can reduce your risk of developing infection.
While it may sound strange that tooth brushing can cause infection, it is true. Brushing too hard or rigorously along the gums or gum line can lead to receding gums. When the gums recede they pull away from the teeth, exposing the lower tooth and root. When gums recede, your tooth appears longer. The gums may be loose and appear to be slack and pooled around the root of the tooth. Bacteria can more easily grow below the gum line when it isn't firmly attached to the teeth. Since the gums don't tend to recede uniformly you may only experience infection in the areas where the gum has receded the most. Deep cleaning by a dental professional, or even gum grafts, may be necessary to get rid of the infection and keep it from recurring. A gum graft is a procedure that takes tissue, either from the roof of your mouth or from a cadaver, and places it on your gum line to cover the roots and lower part of your teeth.
The best prevention for gum infections is proper oral hygiene. Brushing at least twice day and flossing are the minimum you should do. Get your teeth cleaned professionally twice a year to reduce plaque and bacteria along the gum line. Quitting tobacco use can also greatly reduce your risk of developing a gum infection. The American Dental Association states that smokers are four times more likely to develop gum disease than non-smokers. Chewless tobacco isn't any safer as far as gum health is concerned: the Mayo Clinic reported, "The sugar and irritants in chewing tobacco and other forms of smokeless tobacco can cause your gums to pull away from your teeth in the area of your mouth where you place the chew. Over time you can develop gum disease..."