Do your gums bleed? If so, it’s best not to ignore the bleeding, as it can be a sign that you are at risk for, or already have, gum disease. Persistent gum bleeding can also be due to a serious medical condition, such as leukemia and bleeding and platelet disorders. According to the National Institutes of Health, more than three-quarters of American adults over age 35 get periodontal (gum) disease. While most people with periodontal disease have the less severe form, called gingivitis, between 5% and 15% have a much more serious type of gum disease known as periodontitis.Your dentist can determine what’s causing your bleeding gums and, when caught early, can help you reverse, or heal it, with proper oral hygiene.
Why You Can’t Ignore Bleeding Gums
Bleeding gums are mainly due to inadequate plaque removal from the teeth at the gum line. This will lead to a condition called gingivitis, or inflamed gums. For many people with gingivitis, this inflammation is not painful. Left untreated, gingivitis can worsen and ultimately lead to tooth loss and a more advanced disease known as periodontitis, a condition in which the gums and bone that hold the teeth in place are severely weakened. And, untreated periodontal disease can lead to worse health problems later. According to the American Academy of Periodontology, people with periodontal disease are almost twice as likely to have coronary artery disease (also called heart disease). And one study found that the presence of common problems in the mouth, including gum disease (gingivitis), cavities, and missing teeth, were as good at predicting heart disease as cholesterol levels.
Be sure to seek medical attention if you have the following symptoms, even if you don’t have any discomfort:
- Changes in the way teeth fit together on biting, or in the fit of partial dentures
- Formation of deep pockets between teeth and gums
- Gums that bleed during and after toothbrushing
- Loose or shifting teeth
- Persistent bad breath or bad taste in the mouth
- Receding gums
- Red, swollen, or tender gums
While most bleeding gums are due to gingivitis, they can also be telling you something else. Contact your doctor if the bleeding is severe or long term (chronic), if your gums continue to bleed even after treatment, or if you have other unexplained symptoms with the bleeding. Other causes of bleeding gums can include:
- Any bleeding disorder
- Brushing too hard
- Hormonal changes during pregnancy
- Idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura
- Ill-fitting dentures
- Improper flossing
- Infection, which can be either tooth- or gum-related
- Use of blood thinners
- Vitamin K deficiency
What You Can Do to Treat Bleeding Gums
Your first line of defense is to visit the dentist at least once every 6 months for plaque removal and follow your dentist’s home care instructions. You should brush your teeth gently with a soft-bristle toothbrush after every meal. Your dentist may also recommend rinsing with salt water or hydrogen peroxide and water. Avoid using commercial, alcohol-containing mouthwashes, which can aggravate bleeding gums. But brushing isn’t enough. You also need to floss your teeth twice a day to prevent plaque from building up. Avoiding snacking between meals and reducing carbohydrates can also help. Follow a balanced, healthy diet. Other tips to reduce your risk of gum disease include:
- Avoid tobacco use, which aggravates bleeding gums.
- Apply pressure directly on the gums with a gauze pad soaked in ice water.
- If you have been diagnosed with a vitamin deficiency, take recommended vitamin supplements.
- Avoid aspirin unless your healthcare provider has recommended that you take it.
- If side effects of medication are irritating, ask your doctor to recommend another medication. Never change your medication without consulting your doctor.
- Use an oral irrigation device on the low setting to massage the gums.
- See your dentist if your dentures do not fit correctly or if they are causing sore spots in your gums.
Gingivitis sounds complicated, but it just means that your gums are inflamed. However, if it’s not taken care of, gingivitis can become a serious issue. It’s a chronic condition caused by the long-term effects of plaque and tartar build up. Most of us have some degree of gingivitis from time to time, but consistent dental care can turn it around. Plaque can be easily removed with brushing and flossing, but tartar requires a trip to the dentist, where a specialized cleaning equipment is be used to break it off and allow the gums to heal.