You Asked: Why are my gums bleeding?
You brush your teeth a little too vigorously or bite into a chip and suddenly taste blood. It’s safe to say we’ve all experienced one of these gum injuries. But, gums that bleed frequently and severely not due to the occasional mishap shouldn’t be ignored. Dental health experts from the Texas A&M University Baylor College of Dentistry explain why it’s not OK to blow off bleeding gums as a ‘normal’ thing.
Bleeding gums are so common that many people may believe it’s a natural occurrence. This simply isn’t true. If you wash your hands and they bleed, would you consider that normal? Probably not.
[pullquote align=”full” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]“Think about about the amount of skin that surrounds the crevices of the teeth,” said William Wathen, DMD, associate professor at Texas A&M University Baylor College of Dentistry. “If you have bleeding in all those crevices, you’re looking at an open wound the size of the palm of your hand in the mouth.”[/pullquote]
Since bleeding signals a hole in the gum, this condition opens up a doorway for bacteria to infiltrate the mouth. “Bleeding gums, itself, is not life-threatening but the underlying conditions it can point to may be,” said Deborah Foyle, DDS, clinical assistant professor in periodontics at Texas A&M University Baylor College of Dentistry. “The cause of the bleeding is what needs to be addressed.”
Gum disease—the silent culprit
The most common source behind prolonged bleeding gums is gum disease—specifically two types: Gingivitis (a form of gum disease that causes inflamed gums) and periodontitis (a serious gum infection that damages the gums and can destroy the jawbone).
“Gum disease runs a range from bleeding gums and inflammation all the way to bone loss that results in tooth loss,” Foyle said. “This is why it’s imperative to consult your dental health provider about any abnormal bleeding. Gingivitis is actually reversible if treated early enough, but as soon as it begins to impact the bone, you’ve lost that treatment window.”
Your mouth reacts to hormones?
As surprising as it sounds, yes, hormone fluctuation can cause your gums to bleed. “Women will tend to notice their gums bleed during or around their menstrual cycle,” Wathen said. “This is because gum tissue contains estrogen receptors that respond to hormonal fluctuations. Because of this, bleeding in the mouth may appear in accordance with a woman’s cycle.”
Menopause can also be the source. When estrogen levels decrease, the mouth tends to dry out, which can lead to bacteria and tooth decay that will cause the gums to bleed or recede.
According to Wathen, there’s also such a thing as ‘pregnancy gingivitis.’ “Because there are so many hormonal changes during pregnancy, it increases blood flow to the gum tissue. This increase may result in sensitive, irritated, swollen and bleeding gums,” he said.
Teens aren’t exempt from this phenomenon, either. “At least 80 percent of adolescents suffer from bleeding gums,” Foyle said. “This is largely due to hormonal changes during puberty, but gum disease because of poor oral hygiene is also an issue.”
Keep plaque at bay
Not brushing your teeth and flossing correctly is why plaque develops on the teeth and irritates your gums—and this plaque buildup is the precursor to gum disease. “Fifty percent of adults have bleeding gums, mostly due to poor oral hygiene,” Foyle said. “But the condition of bleeding gums and gum disease can be prevented by maintaining a good oral hygiene regimen.”
Worth noting, it is possible to monitor your plaque levels. “You can buy plaque disclosers at drugstores that will allow you to measure the amount of plaque in your mouth,” Wathen said. “This will tell you if your oral hygiene is up to snuff.”
Take bleeding gums seriously and talk to your dentist
Other sources behind bleeding gums include:
- Infections (abscesses in the mouth)
- Vitamin K and Vitamin C deficiencies
- Bleeding disorders (like hemophilia)
- Blood thinners (Although, as long as your gum is not damaged, they’re not a huge issue. Blood thinners will only cause the gums to bleed more severely when they’re already damaged.)
Foyle explained severe and sudden bleeding should never be ignored. “If your gums bleed very suddenly and severely, I would consult a dental health professional immediately,” she said. “Spontaneous bleeding is usually indicative of systemic diseases like leukemia, or, a bleeding disorder.”
Important to know, if your bleeding gums aren’t caused by periodontal disease—and have not improved in two weeks—you should make an appointment with your health care provider.
“Bleeding gums can signal deeper problems like poor cardiovascular health, lung infections, arterial disease, diabetes and even some cancers like leukemia,” Wathen said. “These conditions are all linked to oral health. While bleeding gums are mostly benign and will subside with proper oral care, bleeding that doesn’t go away can point to life-threatening illnesses.”