Determining the root of the problem often requires a visit to -- and sometimes treatment from -- the dentist.

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At-home and In-office Gum Care

Getting to the root of gum soreness usually involves a little bit of self-examination and often professional follow-up. Sores in the mouth from accidental biting or too much hot or acidic food, for instance, have a more obvious cause and relief: Refrain from eating irritating foods and wait for the sores to heal.

Those mouth ulcers mentioned earlier might require antibiotics and specialized rinses for combating bacteria, as can many physically connected oral problems such as dry mouth or hormonal changes. Aside from gingivitis and gum disease that result from poor brushing and flossing habits, some sources of gum pain need dental and medical attention. Taking additional vitamins, focusing on diet and scheduling more frequent teeth cleanings during pregnancy is one example.

Sometimes gum irritation is treatable with simple home remedies such as rinsing with salt water, using a water-pressure, inter-tooth device, or massaging gums with picks, rubber tips and other gum tissue stimulants. At first sign of pain, many find relief with over the counter (OTC) analgesics, which can be applied topically, but when OTC products don't work or the condition doesn't improve, a dentist may prescribe anti-bacterial rinses, a below gum cleaning called scaling or a trip to the periodontist for further treatment.

One reaction to gum soreness can actually cause an escalation of the problem. If pain in the mouth stems from gingivitis, and pockets between teeth and gums are widening, many people tend to go overboard by ramping up brushing and flossing routines. Unfortunately, more brushing and flossing can damage gum tissue if it's done too vigorously or with rapid motions that tear at the gums.

Angling the brush gently into the area where teeth and gum meet and circling gently will clean plaque residue after eating. Flossing with gentle twining around the tooth, rather than jerking the floss way down into the gums and back up, also rids the teeth and gumline of residue and bacteria [source: ADA]. Teeth get cleaner and breath gets fresher with better technique, not harder brushing more often.

In all but extreme cases, the prognosis for sore gums is good to great -- tissues can heal and pockets can shrink. If a painful mouth doesn't get better within a few days, it is advisable to have a professional take a look. Early intervention can prevent costly fixes and keep your mouth healthy for eating and drinking without pain, which means you can keep your eye on your tight jean pockets instead of those dental pockets.