Pus in the gums is almost always caused by a bacterial infection, though how that infection came about and what caused it can vary from person to person. Poor oral hygiene is often to blame. People who don’t regularly brush or floss their teeth risk getting food and other particles stuck between their teeth and gums, and when these are left to decay and break down they can become quite harmful. Inflammation of the tooth sockets, usually at the ligament level, can also lead to broken skin and potential infection, as can gingivitis, which is commonly known as gum disease. In all of these instances, pus is usually just one of several symptoms. Pain, tenderness, and swelling usually happen, too. People with any or all of these symptoms are usually encouraged to get prompt dental care in order to prevent things from getting worse.
Pus is typically an immune response to a festering infection. It is thick and sticky in most cases, and tends to be yellowish in color. It is one of the immune system’s defense mechanisms, but it is also a sign that something is seriously wrong, particularly when it occurs in the gums. Getting treatment usually depends on understanding both where the infection is situated as well as what caused it specifically — which is to say, identifying why the offending bacteria is in the gum bed in the first place.
Dentists and other medical professionals often stress the importance of good oral hygiene, often understood to be regular brushing and flossing of the teeth. Some of this is related to appearance and basic social expectation but a lot of it is actually scientific. The mouth is a moist environment that is in many respects the perfect breeding ground for bacteria, and the frequent introduction of different food particles provides ample fuel for many different strains to thrive, grow, and multiply. Toothpastes and mouthwashes will typically kill or at least wash away the majority of these bacteria, and regular flossing will remove the bulk of their food supply.
Bacteria that grow between the teeth and in the gum beds are almost always on the lookout for ways of expanding and growing ever more powerful. Any cuts or scrapes in the gums can give them the perfect opportunity to spread, and this is normally when pus occurs.
Pyorrhea, which is an inflammation of the ligaments holding the teeth into their sockets, may also be to blame. This sort of problem is often also referred to as periodontitis. It usually happens when microorganisms and bacteria have penetrated the gum barrier and have begun eating away at the bone coverings that anchor the teeth. This exposes the ligaments and sockets, making them ripe targets for bacterial attack. When this happens, the body often responds by oozing pus to cover the affected area and in an attempt to flush the bacteria away.
When pyorrhea has been left untreated for long periods of time it often leads to tooth loss or abscess. Pus often forms around these sites, too. Though in instances like this the pus may not technically be originating in the gums, it often spreads there.
Chronic Gum Disease
Gum disease is another common cause. This condition, which is often referred to by its medical name gingivitis, can be caused by a number of different factors. Medications to treat seizures often list gingivitis as a side effect, for instance, and hormones also play a role; pregnant women and women going through menopause are often some of the most at risk.
One of the most common symptoms of this condition is bleeding gums. Left untreated, this bleeding can open a passageway for more serious infection which, over time, can lead to pus. In many cases this causes people to avoid flossing their teeth, though dentists usually recommend that flossing should continue despite bleeding, since the bleeding will stop once the gums regain their health.
Pus rarely happens in isolation, and oral infections typically cause any number of uncomfortable symptoms. These include swollen or painful gums, toothache, sore throat, and swollen glands. Patients may also experience a fever, headache, and nausea. An infection that causes pus in the gums can also cause people to feel sick. When pus is swallowed, it can cause a systemic infection, producing fever, chills, nausea, muscle pain, and fatigue. All are signs that the person should get medical help.
Common Treatment Options
Infections bad enough to produce pus are commonly treated with oral antibiotics. These types of medications are powerful, but it is almost always essential that people take the entire round, even if it seems like things have cleared up. If pills remain, the infection may not actually be healed, and in some cases could come back even stronger later on. Dentists may also recommend an anti-bacterial mouthwash to protect against harmful growth, and they usually encourage all patients to brush and floss regularly.
A general dentist is usually well qualified to treat most minor gum complaints. Conditions that produce severe or chronic infections, however, may need to be treated by a specialist known as a periodontist. This person may be better suited to help people with really serious mouth problems.