Bleeding gums can be alarming. Many people notice some bleeding from their gums when they brush or floss their teeth. It either shows on the toothbrush bristles or floss itself. It can also be visible when you spit into the sink. An old toothpaste commercial warned of seeing “pink in the sink” because blood mixed with toothpaste and saliva often looks pink in color.
The reason there was a warning about bleeding gums is that bleeding gums can be an indication of a serious dental problem.
What Causes Bleeding Gums?
The primary cause of bleeding in the gum tissues is always inflammation. Inflammation is the body’s defensive response to an injury, which in the gum tissues can be an actual trauma to the tissue or toxins produced by bacteria. Inflammation causes redness, swelling, tenderness, and a tendency to bleed easily because it brings an increase in blood flow to the site of injury. Through inflammation, your body is attempting to bring repair cells to the damaged tissue through the elevated blood flow.
In some cases, we can cause bleeding gums by injuring the gums. Obviously, an injury to the face or mouth could cut or tear the gum tissues. Some people can floss or brush with too much force and damage the gums. These are legitimate causes of bleeding gums, but they are relatively rare.
The most common cause of bleeding gums is the bacteria in dental plaque and tartar buildup. (Plaque is the soft buildup that accumulates on teeth every day, which you can remove with brushing and flossing. Tartar is the hardened buildup that you cannot remove because it requires specialized dental instrumentation.) Both plaque and tartar contain the bacteria responsible for gum disease. These bacteria produce toxins, which penetrate into the surrounding gum tissue. It is the toxins against which your body sends inflammation to fight.
What Factors Put You at Higher Risk for Bleeding Gums?
While the underlying cause of bleeding gums is always inflammation, there are several different risk factors you may have that make your gums more likely to bleed. Because we know that inflammation is the cause of the bleeding, we typically call bleeding gums gingivitis, which means inflammation of the gums.
Poor Oral Hygiene
By far, the most common cause of bleeding gums is poor oral hygiene. The purpose of oral hygiene is to consistently remove dental plaque from the teeth. When someone does not do this well (they do it poorly), they leave dental plaque on the teeth, allowing bacterial toxins to seep into the gums and cause inflammation.
Poor oral hygiene could be the result of a lack of effort, in which some people do not even try to clean their teeth well. It often results from an inability to clean the teeth properly. We commonly see this problem in patients who are very young or very old because they lack the hand skills to manipulate the toothbrush and floss as needed to remove plaque. We also see an inability to clean the teeth among special needs patients of every age.
Lack of Dental Care
Skipping the dentist also puts you at a higher risk for bleeding gums. One of the goals in consistent dental care is having professional teeth cleanings at an interval that preserves gum health. Because your home oral hygiene routine only removes plaque, you must also see your dentist or dental hygienist for professional teeth cleanings, which remove all bacterial buildup including hardened tartar. Even the best brusher and flosser misses areas of the teeth, allowing plaque to harden into tartar buildup. Most adults need professional teeth cleanings every six months, and some need them more frequently based on their risk levels. Consistent teeth cleanings prevent any significant bacterial buildup from leading to gingivitis.
While you have control over the first two factors in bleeding gums listed above, this is one over which you have little control. Large swings in hormone levels lead to an increased risk for bleeding gums because they make the inflammatory response more sensitive. This means that even the smallest amount of plaque accumulation can trigger bleeding gums. The people most susceptible to this are those undergoing puberty, pregnancy and menopause. We often see these patients more frequently for dental cleanings during these hormone surges.
A dry mouth is one in which excessive levels of plaque and tartar build up on the teeth. Because there is a lack of saliva, plaque is both more in quantity and stickier in quality, which makes it more difficult to remove from the teeth. Whether dry mouth is the result of prescription medications or mouth breathing, it allows more bacteria to collect on the teeth and cause gingivitis.
While this is more rare in causing bleeding gums, it is possible for some patients to experience gingivitis as a side effect of certain prescription medications. Some drugs cause an enlargement and inflammation in the gum tissues, and your dentist will readily recognize the correlation. If possible, you can change medications to one that does not cause this side effect. If changing medications is not possible, you should consider more frequent teeth cleanings in your dental office.
What Can You Do about Bleeding Gums?
The first and most important thing you can do about bleeding gums is take them seriously! Because they often indicate the presence of gum disease, you should never ignore them. Follow these steps to manage bleeding gums.
1. See a dentist
You should always see your dentist about dental problems like bleeding gums. Home remedies may seem to improve the situation, but they rarely address the underlying cause of the problem. If you have not seen a dentist in over a year, it is time to schedule a visit with a professional teeth cleaning. Your dentist will investigate the cause of your bleeding gums and start the process of healing.
2. Improve your home care
Whether you have seen your dentist recently or not, you need to practice great oral hygiene at home. Great plaque removal must include brushing and flossing with the correct technique. We recommend brushing with a soft-bristled toothbrush twice a day, and flossing every night before bed. Your hygienist will give you specific instructions on the technique to remove plaque most effectively.
3. Treat your dry mouth
Those with dry mouth have yet another important step to take in the fight against gingivitis. If your mouth is dry, you must support healthy salivary function and use saliva replacements as needed. Fighting dry mouth is an extensive topic, enough for a full article of its own. In short, drink plenty of water, chew sugar-free gum, and use products that stimulate and replace saliva.
More Questions about Bleeding Gums?
Call your nearest Premier Dental of Ohio location today to schedule a consultation with one of our dentists. We can assess your current situation, determine the cause of your bleeding gums, and begin the treatment necessary to resolve the problem. We have locations all over Ohio to serve the dental needs of you and your family.