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Why Is My Gum Sore At The Back Of My Mouth?

Gum pain or soreness in the back of the mouth is a common complaint that can stem from various sources. The posterior molars are especially prone to plaque accumulation and inflammation of the gums known as gingivitis. However, gum discomfort can also arise from infection, ill-fitting dental work, trauma, or serious conditions like periodontal disease and oral cancer. Identifying the precise origin of gum soreness is key to proper treatment and relief.

Causes of Gum Pain in the Back of the Mouth

Gingivitis

Gingivitis is an early stage of gum disease caused by plaque buildup around teeth. When plaque hardened into tartar goes untreated, it harbors bacteria that release toxins. These irritants trigger inflammation and swelling of gum tissue.

As gingivitis worsens, gums redden, turn shiny, and bleed easily. Gum margins begin to pull away from teeth forming pockets that collect even more plaque. Patients typically complain of sensitivity, tenderness, and soreness when chewing.

Without treatment, gingivitis can advance to much more severe periodontitis and eventual tooth loss. The back molars near the opening of salivary ducts are particularly prone as their constant bathing in saliva promotes rapid plaque accumulation.

Periodontitis

Periodontitis is a progressive form of gum disease where inflammation has spread to deeper tissues and jawbone surrounding teeth. The gums recede further, pockets deepen, and bacteria begin degrading the periodontal ligaments and bone. Teeth loosen and become unstable.

Periodontitis sufferers experience pronounced soreness, bleeding, gaps between teeth, bad breath, and even alteration of bite alignment. Aggressive periodontitis tends to strike otherwise healthy patients under age 35. But chronic periodontitis is most common in those over 40.

If left unchecked, periodontitis destroys more bone until teeth become loose and fall out. Molars in the back are often lost prematurely. Professional deep cleanings, antibiotics, and gum grafts are required to halt damage and restore gum health.

Canker Sores

Canker sores manifest as round white ulcers inside the mouth surrounded by a red halo. They can develop along the gums in the back of the mouth near molars. Canker sores cause a burning, tingling pain.

While the exact cause is unknown, canker sores are triggered by stress, hormonal shifts, vitamin deficiencies, spicy foods, and mouth trauma. They usually heal on their own within 7-10 days. More severe cases may be treated by dentists with topical numbing agents, steroids, or cauterizing chemicals to ease discomfort.

Oral Thrush

Oral thrush results when the yeast Candida albicans proliferates inside the mouth and on gum tissue. It produces creamy white lesions and patches that cause soreness and bleeding when scraped. Thrush commonly affects the gums and palate but can spread to the back molars.

Denture wearers are very prone as the yeast overgrows on poorly fitting dentures. Other risk factors for thrush include diabetes, antibiotic use, smoking, steroid inhalers, vitamin deficiencies, and HIV/AIDS. Prescription antifungal rinses or lozenges can clear up most cases.

Fitting Dental Work

Crowns, fillings, bridges, braces, and dentures that do not properly fit can rub and irritate gum tissue. Constant abrasion causes swelling, sores, and discomfort concentrated along the band of gums contacting the dental materials. Misaligned or overhanging dental work frequently affects the gums around back molars.

Dentists can adjust fittings or re-cement loose dental work to prevent further irritation. Switching to denture adhesives may also relieve sore spots. In some cases, a full re-fabrication is required to correctly size dental appliances.

Trauma and Irritation

Any repeated irritation and trauma to the gums near molars provokes localized pain and inflammation. Common irritants include:

Accidentally biting cheek or gums with molars during chewing

Rough edges of dental fillings or crowns scraping gums

Constant picking at gums with fingers or objects

Chewing on hard items like ice or popcorn kernels

Poking gums with toothpicks, fish bones, or other sharp debris

Chemical or thermal burns from hot drinks, smoking, or acidic foods

Managing diet and habits to protect delicate back gum areas helps them heal. Dentists can smooth sharp dental edges or deliver fast pain relief with topical analgesics and steroids.

Oral Cancer

Persistent swollen lump, sore, or ulcer on the gums that does not heal could signal the presence of oral cancer. Oral squamous cell carcinoma accounts for over 90% of mouth cancers detected. Early warning signs often appear along the posterior gumline where cheek tissues meet the upper and lower molars.

Any strange lesion on the gums lasting longer than 2 weeks must be evaluated promptly by an oral surgeon. Other oral cancer symptoms include numbness, difficulty swallowing or chewing, earaches, and loose teeth. Successful treatment and survival are vastly improved when oral cancer is diagnosed at an early stage.

Less Common Causes

Other less frequent sources of back gum soreness include:

Abscesses – bacterial infections forming pus-filled pockets in the gums requiring drainage

Desquamative gingivitis – chronic inflammatory gum condition causing redness, burning, and peeling

Leukemia – cancer of blood-forming tissues that can manifest with swollen, painful gums

Vitamin C deficiency – causes weakened collagen and bleeding gums

Pregnancy gingivitis – hormonal shifts during pregnancy aggravate swelling and inflammation

Getting Relief from Sore Gums

Here are some simple self-care tips to alleviate mild gum pain and discomfort:

Gently brush sore areas using ultrasoft bristles and limited pressure

Rinse mouth with warm salt water to flush away irritants and reduce inflammation

Apply cold compresses to external gums to constrict blood vessels and ease swelling

Take over-the-counter pain relievers like ibuprofen, naproxen, or acetaminophen for relief

Avoid foods and habits that aggravate pain such as spicy foods, alcohol, smoking, ice chewing

Topical numbing gels containing lidocaine or benzocaine can temporarily numb severe gum pain for several hours. But caution should be used to avoid spreading infection deeper or masking a serious underlying condition.

For cases of persistent soreness and recognized gum disease, professional dental treatment is required for true relief and lasting repair of damage.

(03/30/2024)
by CDHP Dental Health

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