Bleeding gums are most often a sign of gum disease, but can also point to a number of other health problems.
Occasional bleeding of the gums can be the result of brushing your teeth too vigorously or wearing dentures that do not fit correctly. Frequent episodes of gum bleeding, however, can indicate more serious conditions, such as:
- periodontitis (an advanced form of gum disease)
- leukemia (cancer of the blood)
- vitamin deficiency
Dental care issues are the primary cause of bleeding gums. Gingivitis (inflammation of the gums) and periodontitis make your gums sensitive and more prone to bleeding. Most people develop gingivitis when plaque remains too long on the gum line.
Plaque refers to the debris and bacteria that sticks to your teeth. Brushing your teeth removes plaque and can prevent you from developing dental caries, also called cavities. Plaque may stay on your gum line, however, if you do not brush and floss properly. The accumulation of plaque near your gums can cause gingivitis.
Symptoms of gingivitis include:
- puffy gums
- soreness in the mouth and around the gums
- bleeding gums
According to the American Dental Association (ADA), periodontal disease, or periodontitis, can occur when gingivitis continues to an advanced stage. Periodontal disease is the infection of the gums, jawbone, and supportive tissues that connect your teeth and gums (ADA, 2012). Periodontitis can cause your teeth to become loose or fall out.
Denture wearers may also experience bleeding of the gums from time to time. This is more likely when the dentures are too small or fit too tightly. If dentures or other oral appliances are causing your gums to bleed, consult your dentist or orthodontist. You may need to take new impressions to create a better-fitting mouthpiece.
Deficiencies of vitamins C and K can also cause gums to bleed easily. However, vitamin deficiencies are not often seen in people who live in developed countries, according to the Linus Pauling Institute (LPI, 2012). This is because healthy children and adults living in developed areas of the world have access to vitamins C and K through food and supplements. Ask your doctor to check your levels of vitamins C and K if you encounter bleeding gums that are not caused by improper dental care. Follow a diet that contains both of these nutrients to ensure that you are getting the vitamins you need to stay healthy.
Foods rich in vitamin C include:
- citrus fruits and juices
- bell peppers
Foods rich in vitamin K include:
- Swiss chard
- canola oil
- olive oil
Pregnancy is a common cause of gum bleeding among women. The hormonal changes that occur during pregnancy can cause the gums to become more sensitive.
Bleeding disorders, such as hemophilia and leukemia, can also increase your chance of having bleeding gums. Your gums might also bleed more often if you take blood-thinning medications. Drugs in this class include warfarin, aspirin, and heparin.
Good dental hygiene is the first step to managing bleeding gums. Visit your dentist twice yearly for a professional cleaning. Your dentist will let you know if you have gingivitis and teach you how to brush your teeth properly. Proper brushing and flossing can eliminate plaque from your gum line, reducing your risk of developing periodontal disease.
Your dentist may also instruct you to use an antiseptic mouthwash to minimize the plaque that forms in your mouth. A rinse of warm salt water can help soothe swollen gums that bleed easily.
Use a soft toothbrush that is gentle on inflamed gums, especially if you experience bleeding after brushing your teeth. Medium and hard bristles may be too abrasive for your delicate gums. You might also consider using an electric toothbrush. The specially designed brush heads on these toothbrushes can help you to clean your gum line more easily than a manual toothbrush.
Schedule an appointment with your primary care provider to determine if dental health is not the underlying issue causing your bleeding gums. A complete physical examination and blood work can help to determine the cause of your bleeding. Treatment will vary according to your condition.