Why do my gums hurt when I brush my teeth?

Share this article

Proper dental care and brushing your teeth at least twice daily is important.

Proper dental care and brushing your teeth at least twice daily is important.

But when brushing your teeth is painful, it becomes something you can’t easily motivate yourself to do. If you experience painful, sore, swollen or even bleeding gums when you brush your teeth, you need to do something about it before your dental health suffers.

Find out why your teeth or gums hurt when you brush your teeth. Some instances simply require a change in brushing technique, while others require professional attention.

A background decorative of Blue color

Brushing right

Sometimes the root of tooth pain is right under your nose — literally.

If you brush your teeth too vigorously or use a toothbrush with hard bristles, that could be what’s causing gum soreness.

Your gums are made of tissue, so when they are irritated over and over, the tissue can become damaged and sore to the touch.

Brush gently, using circular motions instead of back-and-forth. Ditch your toothbrush with hard bristles and buy one that has soft, nylon bristles. Soft bristles will be easier on your gums.

If you’re mindful when you brush, you can pay attention to your technique. Watch yourself in the mirror so you can do it more consciously, instead of while you watch TV or scroll through your phone.

Gum disease

Almost half of Americans have some form of gum disease. That’s a lot, especially for a disease that’s preventable.

Gingivitis, mild gum disease, and periodontitis, a severe gum disease, can cause your gums to swell, feel tender and turn red. This can lead to sensitivity, pain and soreness when you brush your teeth.

If you suspect you might have gum disease, find a dentist. They’ll be able to diagnose your situation and provide the right treatment to get you back on track — and to pain-free brushing.

Canker sores

Though the cause of canker sores is still unknown, one thing’s for sure: They can cause a lot of pain and irritation. Canker sores, or ulcers, can be identified by their white center with red edges. You could have just one or several at a single time.

Canker sores may cause your gums to be tender and sore to the touch, and it can make brushing your teeth extremely unappealing.

Gargle with salt water to help alleviate soreness, and brush your teeth extra gently. Try to find a mouthwash that doesn’t sting your ulcers.


Hormonal changes in women — pregnancy, menstruation, puberty and menopause — can have an unexpected effect on your gums.

During these times of hormonal fluctuations, more blood flows to the gums, causing them to swell and become red and sensitive.

These changing hormone levels also change the way your body reacts to bacteria in your mouth. As a result, gum disease and tooth decay are more likely — thus, so are sore gums.

If your gums hurt when you brush your teeth because of hormones, see your dentist to discuss your options.


Eating and drinking acidic food and drink can cause irritation to your mouth and possibly cause sores. This sensitivity might cause your gums to hurt when you brush your teeth.

Some examples of acidic food and drink include:

  • Citrus fruits and juice: orange, grapefruit, lemon, lime, etc.

  • Pickles

  • Cranberries

  • Tomato products

  • Coffee

  • Wine

  • Grains

  • Sugar

  • Processed foods

It’s best to limit your consumption of these items. But when you do eat acidic foods, rinse with water — better yet, mouthwash — afterward.

Braces, retainers, mouth Guards, dentures

One of the few very visible sources of gum pain and soreness could be braces, retainers, dentures or mouth guards. The constant tugging, pulling and rubbing against the gums can cause them to become sore and painful over time. This can affect how your gums feel when you brush your teeth.


If your braces are causing pain or discomfort, see your orthodontist to discuss your options.


In the case that your retainer is causing the sensitivity, see your orthodontist or dentists about getting fitted for a new one.

Mouth guards

If your mouth guard is causing irritation, see your dentist about getting a custom-made one that is fitted specifically to your mouth.


When your dentures are causing gum soreness, talk to your dentist to discuss your options.


One of the potential side effects of chemotherapy is painful, swollen or bleeding gums. Chemo patients are also more likely to develop stomatitis, which leads to sores and ulcers.

If this describes your situation, talk to your doctor about how chemotherapy is affecting your body.

Gum pain and soreness prevention

In some cases, a gentle massage to the gums from the outside of your mouth can help your gums feel better.

But, the best way to treat gum sensitivity when you’re brushing your teeth is through prevention. Brush twice daily and after every meal, floss, use mouthwash, and see your dentist regularly. If you have concerns about your current dental insurance coverage, it is important to review your policy. 

Links to external sites are provided for your convenience in locating related information and services. Guardian, its subsidiaries, agents and employees expressly disclaim any responsibility for and do not maintain, control, recommend, or endorse third-party sites, organizations, products, or services and make no representation as to the completeness, suitability, or quality thereof.


Insights for the people.

Join our new digital insurance community that includes tips, resources and useful information from Guardian Direct.