Various Causes of Bleeding Gums
Why Are My Gums Bleeding?
You’re gazing into the mirror over the bathroom sink, lost in the ritual of your morning routine. Your hands are tugging a piece of floss, tightly strung between your two index fingers, from one side of your mouth to the other. But your mind’s back in bed or already deep in your day—until you notice a spot of blood in the sink.
What just happened? Where did that come from? You look down at the floss. Sure enough, it stained red. Was I doing it too hard? Maybe you feel around your gums with the tip of your tongue and notice an area that feels a little tender.
It’s nothing, right? When I rinse at the end of a cleaning at the dentist, there’s always a little blood. No pain, no gain.
Yes, some occasional bleeding as a result of flossing isn’t usually a problem. But it’s hard to say with total certainty because the flossing may not be the true cause. In fact, bleeding gums are a precursor for a number of larger health issues, some of them fairly serious. We’ll unpack the most common ones here.
Most often, bleeding gums are a sign of gingivitis, a mild form of gum disease. The same bacteria that can cause cavities can also get beneath your gums and cause swelling, irritation, and, eventually, bleeding.
Gingivitis is pretty easy for a dentist or periodontist to spot and treat. But, for as common as it is, it too often goes untreated. And when that happens, gingivitis can progress to periodontal disease, which is much more severe and difficult to treat.
A recent study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention discovered that about half of American adults are walking around with periodontal disease. But I brush and floss like I’m supposed to, you’re saying. In some cases, that’s not enough. Some of us just run a greater risk for developing periodontal disease. Men, for example, are more prone to it than women by a pretty wide margin (56 percent vs. 38 percent). And while it’s true that periodontal disease is more common among older adults, don’t be so quick to brush it off if you’re in your twenties or thirties. Basically: There’s no such thing as being too young to get gum disease.
If you suspect you may have gum disease or periodontal disease—click here for a quick rundown of the most obvious symptoms—schedule an exam with me. It’s never too late to treat, but the sooner we can do so, the better.
Stress is a fact of life anymore. But when it starts to feel relentless, stress becomes a different animal that’s capable of causing physiological damage. Essentially, when we’re stressed, our bodies react in much the same way they do in the presence of infection. When that happens in prolonged bouts, that constant state of alert taxes our immune systems and, after long enough, will eventually begin to break them down, making us more susceptible to infection—including gum disease.
If you think you’re doing a decent job of managing your stress, but you’re consistently waking in the morning with a sore jaw, your body may be telling you otherwise. Even if you haven’t spotted any bleeding while you’ve been brushing or flossing, schedule an appointment with me. Clenching and grinding your teeth can put excess strain on both the teeth and the gums and, ultimately, break them down.
Hormonal fluctuations spurred by pregnancy can cause a slew of unusual things to happen to a woman’s body, including bleeding gums. About half of all pregnant women will have what’s referred to as “pregnancy gingivitis” by their second trimester.
The hormonal changes alter the body’s response to the bacteria that causes gum disease. But the symptoms—swollen gums and bleeding during brushing—almost always clear up after pregnancy, according to the American Pregnancy Association. Still, keep up with your biannual dental checkups and oral hygiene regimen to ensure that the problem doesn’t escalate.
If you’re taking blood-thinners, you’ve likely already been warned about the potential for bleeding gums. But few of us are aware that over-the-counter ibuprofen qualifies as one and, hence, carries the same risk.
As a rule of thumb, it’s a good idea to keep your dentist or periodontist abreast of any medications you’re taking, including ibuprofen, even if it’s only for the occasional headache or sore back. That knowledge may alter the course of a treatment they’re planning. And if you think one of those medications may be causing your gums to bleed, they’ll be to tailor your oral hygiene regimen to minimize the effect.
Poor oral hygiene
Speaking of oral hygiene, it’s kind of the elephant in the room.
Occam’s Razor is a philosophy principle that believes the simplest explanation is usually the correct one. Not to understate the significance of any of the aforementioned causes, but they all kind of assume that a basic oral hygiene regimen is in place. If it’s not, there’s really not much need to look any further.
As simply as I can put it: If you’re not brushing your teeth twice a day and flossing at least daily, you’re going to develop gingivitis. And unless you have it treated, it’s going to progress to periodontal disease.
Pay attention to your technique, too. You may think you’re doing yourself a favor by brushing hard or flossing aggressively around your gums, but regularly agitating your gums can also lead to gingivitis. If you have even a hint of doubt about whether you’re doing it right, check out our short oral hygiene primer.
The takeaway: Keep up with your daily oral hygiene regimen and biannual dental checkups. They’re the most effective means to remove the plaque and bacteria that can cause serious irritation and bleeding. And if you’re already experiencing it, for any reason, schedule an appointment with me. I offer a wide variety of treatments to remedy bleeding gums.