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If you or your child’s gums bleed easily from brushing or eating hard foods, you may be concerned that leukemia could be the cause.

While bleeding gums are a common symptom of leukemia, it’s usually caused by other conditions, like gingivitis or gum disease. It may even be caused by using a hard toothbrush, or possibly by brushing too vigorously.

If changing your brushing habits aren’t enough to stop your gums from bleeding, it’s reasonable to seek medical attention. Read on to find out when bleeding gums may be a sign of leukemia and what your next steps should be.

Leukemia is a cancer of the blood cells. It starts in the bone marrow, where blood cells are made.

Most types of leukemia are caused by an overproduction of immature, abnormal white blood cells. These cells overcrowd the bone marrow and blood, reducing the space available for red blood cells and platelets. A low platelet count can cause problems with bleeding and bruising.

When you brush your teeth or eat something hard, you may injure your gums. This is more likely to happen if you have plaque and tartar buildup. Even mild gum disease can irritate your gums. This makes them prone to small cuts and tears from brushing and flossing.

But people with leukemia may have bleeding gums even if they don’t have gum disease. One reason is because some forms of leukemia may cause the gums to swell. But even without apparent swelling, leukemia can make gums more likely to bleed.

Bleeding gums are usually a sign of gingivitis (gum disease). But no matter what the cause, bleeding gums may also have these characteristics:

  • swelling
  • redness
  • irritation

Leukemia can cause bleeding symptoms throughout the body. In some instances, bleeding gums may be a sign of leukemia in children or adults. Other bleeding symptoms of leukemia include:

Leukemia can be chronic or acute. Chronic leukemia develops slowly over time. Often, the early symptoms of chronic leukemia may be so mild they go unnoticed. Acute leukemia develops quickly and may be accompanied by sudden, more apparent symptoms.

Bleeding gums can be an early warning sign of both types of leukemia. This telltale symptom may also be accompanied by other symptoms affecting the mouth like:

Children are more likely to have acute, rather than chronic leukemia. This means their symptoms may come on suddenly.

If your child has bleeding gums, keep in mind that there are many reasons why this might be happening. They may not be brushing and flossing as often as you thought and simply need better oral hygiene habits.

Of course, bleeding gums shouldn’t be ignored. The signs and symptoms of childhood leukemia are similar to those in adults. You and your child’s other caregivers should keep an eye out for other symptoms like:

  • lethargy
  • weakness
  • dizziness
  • pale skin
  • nose bleeds
  • red dots on skin
  • excessive bruising
  • constant infections or infections that don’t resolve quickly
  • fever
  • weight loss and reduced appetite
  • swelling, bloating, or tenderness in the abdomen
  • swelling around the neck and lymph nodes
  • night sweats
  • irritable mood
  • unusual lumps under the arms or anywhere on the body or face, including the eye area

Bleeding gums are a common, early symptom of leukemia. But most cases of bleeding gums have other causes, like gum disease. Bleeding gums that don’t go away with improvement in oral hygiene after a few weeks should be examined by a doctor or dentist.

Other early warning signs of leukemia that warrant medical attention include pale skin, nose bleeds, and constant infections. These symptoms can occur in both children and adults.