Why Do My Gums Hurt After a Cleaning?

The average dental cleaning is a fairly predictable affair. Once you’re in the chair, your hygienist will perform an examination, often including a cancer screening, to assess the state of your oral health. The next step is the cleaning process, which involves using a variety of tools to scrape away hardened, stuck-on tartar from tooth surfaces, between teeth, and below the gum line. Finally, your teeth will be polished to remove surface stains and leave you with a squeaky-clean smile.

Some visits may also include x-rays that will give your dentist clues about what’s going on inside of teeth and jaws, and you’ll probably conclude by meeting with your dentist for a second look and a discussion about your oral health. Even if your appointment goes off without a hitch, though, you may notice that your gums hurt in the days following cleaning.

Why does this happen, and what can you do about it? Here’s what you need to know about this common occurrence before you call your dentist’s office in a panic.

Cleaning Tools

Dental hygienists take great care to clean your teeth without causing you any discomfort during your appointment, but in order to remove tartar buildup on teeth, they have to use metal tools that can break up and scrape away hard, sticky calculus. Often, tartar starts to build at or below the gum line, so dental professionals have to work between your gums and your teeth.

With patience and diligence, this can be accomplished with no pain to the patient, but the scraping motion could definitely irritate the gums and make them tender for a few days following your appointment. It’s not uncommon to experience mild discomfort after the fact, even if your hygienist is extremely gentle during the cleaning.

Unhealthy Gums

One common reason why gums are sensitive after a dental cleaning is related to oral hygiene, or a lack thereof. When patients neglect their oral health, it can result in swelling, tenderness, or even bleeding during and after a dental cleaning. The good news is that gums can begin to recover and heal with proper cleaning, but if you’ve been slacking leading up to your appointment, painful gums afterward are not uncommon.

There are a couple of possible reasons for this. Perhaps you simply haven’t been diligent about brushing, flossing, and/or rinsing with mouthwash daily. This standard regimen for care ensures that food and bacteria are washed away so they don’t build up on teeth and other surfaces or hide out between teeth and below the gum line, leading to plaque and tartar that can irritate and inflame gums and lead to issues like tooth decay, gum disease, and worse.

What if you do follow a proper regimen of at-home care? Maybe you haven’t been to see the dentist for cleaning in quite a while. Even if you’re meticulous when it comes to caring for your teeth and gums, you simply can’t reach all the nooks and crannies experienced dental professionals can. This is why regular dental visits for professional cleaning are so important. They ensure that you maintain the best possible oral health so you don’t have to deal with tartar and the pain it can cause.

Deep Cleaning

If your mouth is in bad shape due to neglect or other issues like injury, illness, side effects of medications, nutritional issues, or even heredity, your dentist may prescribe a deep cleaning to drastically improve oral health conditions. While high quality general dentistry, including standard cleanings, will go a long way toward preserving oral health, there will almost certainly be times when a deep cleaning is necessary.

If this is the case, dental professionals will have to get below the gum line, perhaps even getting down to the roots to remove tartar buildup. This intensive care will probably irritate already sensitive gums and lead to tenderness, bleeding, and even pain for a few days after the procedure. However, if you follow aftercare instructions and treat your mouth gently for several days, your gums will heal, your oral health will improve, and you’ll experience a lot less discomfort moving forward.

Overzealous Brushing

Your teeth may be sensitive after cleaning, even if you experienced no discomfort during your time in the dentist’s chair. As a result, it’s best to be gentle with your teeth and gums for at least a couple of days following cleanings. If you brush or floss too vigorously when your gums are already a bit tender, you’re probably going to experience some pain as a result, and possibly extend recovery time.

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