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What makes the gums feel sore?

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HealthWiki > Where There Is No Dentist > Chapter 4: School Activities for Learning about Teeth and Gums > What makes the gums feel sore?


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Healthy gums fit tightly around the teeth and help to hold them strongly. Healthy gums also cover and protect the bone under them.

Healthy gums are pink in color, or even blue or dark yellow
in some people. But healthy gums are never red.

Healthy gums are pointed between the teeth. This lets food
slide away and be swallowed.

Healthy gums fold under, making a little pocket around
the tooth.

As we saw with the last activity, when you have ‘colonies’ of germs on your teeth, they can make acid that makes holes on your teeth. The same coating of germs can make a different acid that makes the gums sore. This also happens when food mixes with the coating on your teeth. Soft food is the worst kind, because when it mixes with spit it sticks more and stays longer on your teeth. Juice from tea, betel nut, and meat color this food, making the tooth look dark.

teeth with healthy gums teeth with swollen gums; a box is drawn around 4 of them.

Healthy gums become sore because of acid. When the coating on the teeth becomes hard, it is called tartar. Tartar can hurt the gums. Also, the ‘colonies’ of germs can make a coating on top of tartar more easily than on a clean tooth. When the colonies are new, they make more acid which causes tooth and gum problems. After 24 hours, it hardens and makes a new layer of tartar. The tartar gets bigger and bigger.

Here is a larger picture of the teeth in the box above:
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Sore gums are infected. Infected gums are red and bleed easily.

Infected gums are round and swollen between the teeth.

They are also loose instead of tight against the teeth.

Infected gums have a deep gum pocket which catches even more food.

Infection in the gums is called gum disease. It is important to treat gum disease early, before it can spread to the root fibers and the bone.

a toothbrush.
a vegetable and a fruit.
salt water.
a box of dental floss.

If you have sore, bleeding gums, you can do much to treat the infection yourself.

  1. Clean your teeth with a soft brush gently and more often.
  2. Eat more fresh fruits and vegetables.
  3. Rinse your mouth with warm salt water.
  4. Clean between your teeth with dental floss or string. At first your gums may bleed when you do this. But when the gums are stronger the bleeding will stop.


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  1. Have the students look in each other’s mouths. Can they see the coating on the teeth? Usually they cannot. They may see food or ‘white stuff,’ but this is not the coating that makes acid. However, if someone has been chewing betel nut or eating berries, you will see stains on her teeth and the stains will be darkest where she has these colonies of germs on her teeth.
  2. Put something on the teeth to stain the colonies of germs. Try using food dye, betel nut or berry juices. Remember: first wash your hands! Older students can rub berries on the teeth of the younger ones. Have them rinse with a little water and spit it out. After this, the colored areas on the teeth will show where the colonies of germs are forming. Where are they? Usually you will see the dark colors:
    • between the teeth.
    • in the pits or holes in the teeth.
    • on the tops (biting surfaces) of the teeth.

    The older students can show the younger ones the best way to clean teeth. Have them use a mirror to see if they are getting the colored juice from their teeth. They will learn that it is most difficult to get rid of the color between their teeth. Give them some string, dental floss, or the soft stem from a young palm leaf and show them how to use it between their teeth. Remind them to be gentle, or they will hurt their gums. Clean between your teeth every day.

This page was updated:19 Feb 2018