Your gums are red around the margins and bleed whenever you brush or floss but there's minimal to no pain... You: (select the most appropriate answer[s])
- are brushing or flossing too vigorously
- have an accumulation of dental plaque where the teeth meet the gums
- are using a toothbrush that's too firm
- are experiencing early signs of gum disease
- should see your dentist if this persists for more than 6 months
Kudos if you picked b) and d). The most common cause of bleeding gums is the accumulation of dental plaque (bacterial deposits) at the gum line, which is an early sign of periodontal (from the Latin “peri” – around, and the Greek “odont” – tooth) disease. It is usually painless so people tend to underestimate the risk of allowing gum disease to progress and become a more significant problem.
It's a common misconception that bleeding gums are caused by brushing or flossing too vigorously or using a toothbrush that's too firm. This is sometimes the case, but the abrasion would probably cause noticeable pain. Instead, it's likely that you're not brushing and flossing effectively enough, allowing bacterial deposits to accumulate at the gum line and feed on food particles that haven't been adequately flushed from your mouth.
The bacterial deposits form a whitish film that is hard to detect when you look in the mirror. But you will notice bleeding and redness and eventually inflammation of the gums — an immune response to disease-causing bacteria that flourish in the plaque. As the biofilm grows, with time it also hardens (calcifies), making it increasingly difficult to dislodge. Eventually, only professional cleaning can remove it and sometimes antibiotics are needed. If no action is taken, gum disease will progress, and eventually cause loss of the underlying bone that anchors the teeth.
There are other reasons that gums may bleed, such as elevated hormone levels in women, a side effect of certain medications, or a systemic (bodily) disease. Whatever the cause, it's important to get a professional diagnosis promptly and take appropriate therapeutic action as needed. Optimally, with good oral hygiene and regular checkups, you can avoid this problem entirely!
If you would like more information about preventing or treating bleeding gums, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Bleeding Gums.”