Let's start with the most obvious reason for gum soreness: just having gotten dental work done. If you were hanging out with your mouth open for an hour while your dentist poked and prodded around in there, it's not all that surprising that you may be sent home with sore gums along with your shiny new toothbrush. Beyond that, Dr. Chern says inflammation is another main cause of gum soreness, specifically gingivitis.
- Inna Chern, DDS, New York City-based dentist
Gingivitis is a mild form of gum disease and can cause redness and swelling in (you guessed it) the gums. The main cause is not brushing and flossing enough and if you do have these symptoms, it's important to see a dentist for help treating it.
Dr. Chern says another cause of sore gums is canker sores, shallow ulcers that form in your mouth. These pesky sores can pop up at any time on the lips, cheeks, tongue, or gums. The last major cause of sore gums according to Dr. Chern is spicy food. Eating spicy foods doesn't automatically make your gums feel sore, but if you're sensitive, they certainly can.
The good news is that sore gums is a temporary problem. (If this is not the case for you, definitely book a dentist appointment.) In the meantime, Dr. Chern says it's helpful to know the best foods for sore gums as well as the worst.
The best foods for sore gums
"If the soreness is caused by inflammation due to gingivitis or recent dental work, I suggest eating soft-textured foods," Dr. Chern says. This still leaves plenty on the table. Rice, mashed potatoes, soup, fish, avocado, beans, chickpeas, tofu, pasta, oatmeal, eggs, cheese, and well-cooked veggies are all a-okay. Oh, and ice cream of course—it's practically a must after enduring dental work IMHO.
For sore gums caused by canker sores or spicy foods though, Dr. Chern offers up slightly different advice for to nosh on. It comes down to this: You want to keep your food and drinks bland. Yes, spices 100 percent make food taste better, but right now, your sore gums will not appreciate the effort to flavor up your meals. Unlike with soreness caused by inflammation, Dr. Chern says food texture isn't as important if your soreness stems from spicy food or canker sores; it's more about avoiding anything overly acidic.
"Sometimes, temperature extremes can irritate sore gums that are ulcerated," Dr. Chern adds. That means if your gums are sore because of canker sores or spicy food, you want to avoid eating or drinking anything super hot or ice cold. The big takeaway here is mildness, both in terms of taste and temperature. As long as you keep those food rules in mind, you can essentially still eat what you want.
If you're really in pain, Dr. Chern adds that rinsing your mouth with warm saltwater could help. "It's always been by go-to," she says.
What to avoid if you have sore gums
Okay, so you know to stock up on either soft foods or bland ones, depending on the reason for your sore gums, but what should you avoid? If you just got dental work done or have inflammation, Dr. Chern says to avoid eating anything that can get stuck in the gums. "This includes foods like seeds or flaky bread," she says, making it a point to mention the latter since bread is a soft food.
If your gums are sore because of canker sores or spicy foods, you can probably already guess what's a no-go. Yep, anything spicy or extremely hot or cold. Dr. Chern says acidic foods and drinks can also further irritate the gums, so you will want to pause on things like citrus juice, tomato sauce, and coffee. (If sacrificing coffee is definitely not happening for you, you can decrease the acidity by adding milk; calcium helps balance out the pH levels.)
"Carbonated beverages [also] have a low pH and are acidic in nature," Dr. Chern says. "If your mouth is sore, it may be better to avoid them unless they are combined with food which raises the pH." She also adds that's it's best to avoid alcohol too, which is also known to irritate the gums.
Sticking to these food rules should help your gums heal faster. If it doesn't go away after a few days, Dr. Chern says it's time to book a dentist appointment to troubleshoot. Ditto if the pain is so bad that you literally can't eat or function properly—that's no way to live. Fortunately, dentists are trained to take care of our gums just as much as our teeth, so they'll know exactly how to help. Then, you can go back to not thinking too much about your gums—except when you're taking care of them, of course.
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