Bleeding Gums: What It Means and When to See Your Dentist

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Hi, I’m Dr. B, practicing functional dentist for 35 years. I graduated from the Dugoni School of Dentistry in San Francisco, CA in 1987 and am a member of the American Academy of Dental Sleep Medicine (AADSM), Academy of General Dentistry (Chicago, IL), American Academy for Oral Systemic Health (AAOSH), and Dental Board of California. I'm on a mission to empower people everywhere with the same evidence-based, easy-to-understand dental health advice that my patients get. Learn more about Dr. B

Seeing blood in your sink after you brush your teeth can be alarming, but there’s no need to panic. You may be able to cure your bleeding gums without even seeing a dentist, depending on the situation. In this article, I’ll explain the common causes of bleeding gums, what you can do to stop the bleeding, and how to know when it’s time to see the dentist.

How Your Gums Work

If you examine your gums, they should be a healthy shade of pink – not red. They should make a “C”-shape around the neck of the tooth (where your tooth begins to get skinnier). Where they touch your teeth, they form a small groove, like a collar around the tooth.

Though they are a tiny part of your body, gums have a big job. They protect the neck and roots of your teeth from bacteria. Without healthy gums guarding your teeth, bacteria can sneak beneath your teeth and damage tissues. Over time, the tissues become too damaged to hold your teeth, leading to loose teeth that can even fall out.

What Causes Bleeding Gums

Gums usually bleed becomes something irritates them. Here are common reasons gums get irritated:

1. Gingivitis (Gum Disease)

If you don’t floss or brush regularly, bacteria (also called plaque) builds up in the groove around your teeth. Sometimes you can even see the plaque as white or yellowish marks by your gums.

As bacteria grow and move, they irritate your gums, causing gingivitis. Gingivitis is the early stage of gum disease, and its most common symptom is bleeding gums. Besides bleeding gums, you could also have gingivitis symptoms like red gums, sensitive gums, and bad breath.

Luckily, this stage of gum disease is reversible. Your dentist can help scrape away plaque and bacteria. Brushing and flossing keep the bacteria away for good so you can enjoy healthy gums.

However, if gingivitis gets worse, your gums may start to pull away from your teeth, leaving space for bacteria to travel into tissues below your teeth. The longer bacteria live in your tissues, the worse your dental health gets.

2. Pregnancy

When you are pregnant, changes in your hormones affect your entire body. Your gums are no exception. Hormone changes can cause “pregnancy gingivitis.” Your gums may swell up and become sensitive, causing bleeding when you brush or floss. To avoid oral health issues, talk to your dentist about how to care for your teeth when you are pregnant.

3. Medicines

The medicines you take can make your gums more likely to bleed, even if you have excellent brushing and flossing habits. Blood thinners and aspirin keep your blood from clotting. These medicines especially increase your risk of bleeding gums and may cause your gums to bleed for a long time after brushing.

You should tell your dentist if you are taking these medicines. We want to help your mouth be as healthy as possible, but if we don’t know about your general health we can’t give you the proper care.

4. A New Oral Health Routine

If you have just started a new oral health routine, such as brushing or flossing more often, your gums may bleed until your mouth gets used to the new habits. Brushing and flossing clear away bacteria and plaque from your gums. As you practice these good habits, your gums should bleed less until it eventually stops altogether.

Keep in mind that brushing too hard can also irritate your gums and cause them to bleed. Always use a gentle motion when brushing and consider getting a brush with soft bristles.

When to See Your Dentist About Bleeding Gums

So do you need to see your dentist? Maybe.

Sometimes, if you practice good habits, your gums will get better without a visit to the dentist.

But if your gums bleed regularly, such as every time you brush your teeth for a few weeks, I encourage you to make an appointment to see your dentist soon. You should also call your dentist if your gums bleed for a long time after you have stopped brushing or flossing.

I also recommend that you see your dentist if you experience other symptoms of gum disease, such as:

  • Red or swollen gums
  • Sensitive gums – especially to hot or cold temperatures
  • Gums that seem to be separating from teeth, leaving a gap between the gum and the tooth
  • Frequent bad breath or taste in your mouth
  • Loose teeth as an adult
  • Changes in the way your top and bottom teeth align

The sooner you see your dentist about signs of gum disease, the more likely you’ll be able to reverse the condition.

What to Consider if You Have Bleeding Gums

While bleeding gums aren’t a cause for panic, they are a sign that you need to make positive changes to your oral health routine.

I would encourage everyone to improve their gum health with these tips:

  • Brush and floss twice a day.
    pulls bacteria out of the grooves around your teeth and prevents plaque from building up. Brushing also removes the layer of bacteria on your teeth. If you bleed when you brush or floss, it does not mean that you should back off. Remember, healthy gums don’t bleed when brushed, so it’s not the brushing, it’s the inflammation or state of disease that makes them bleed. In dentistry we call this “bleeding upon provocation.”
  • Use an electric toothbrush.
    Electric toothbrushes can remove plaque and bacteria around your gums more effectively than regular toothbrushes. These brushes move faster than you ever could move a brush while still providing a gentle clean.
  • See your dentist regularly.
    You should see your dentist for a cleaning at least every six months or more often as your dentist suggests. During cleanings, your dentist removes plaque build-up on your teeth. Your dentist can also answer questions about bleeding gums or other oral health issues.
  • Avoid tobacco.
    Tobacco products, including cigarettes and chewing tobacco, hurt all aspects of your health, including your oral health. Tobacco destroys your teeth and gums, leading to tooth decay and loss of teeth.
  • Eat a healthy diet.
    The foods you eat impact the health of your mouth. Sugars and starches provide food for bacteria, helping them grow. Eating throughout the day also can increase the amount of bacteria in your mouth. Reduce how many carbohydrates and snacks you eat to experience better oral health.
  • Nose breathe at night and during the day.
    If you are a mouth breather, find a solution (your dentist can help). Even healthy gums will change color and will be more likely to bleed as a dry mouth changes pH and allows the wrong bacteria to become dominant. If you see that mostly you anterior gums are swollen and red, and not the posterior gums, this could be a result of as simple as mouth breathing. Try 
    mouth taping when you go to bed tonight to see if that helps!

So many of us find it easy to ignore the presence of blood in our mouth. We see the dentist when we get our teeth cleaned. It’s routine, right? Remember that it’s important to realize that gum disease has greater ramifications to the rest of the body.

Gum disease is actually a greater predictor of morbidity than heart disease is. Next time you see blood on your floss you should think of this fact. The only real good solution to fixing those bleeding gums, ultimately, is a trip to the dentist. I hope this post has convinced you of that.

Dr. Mark Burhenne

Learn More: Everything You Need To Know About Gingivitis