From time to time, one may find small traces of blood in the saliva while brushing or spitting. Panic would typify an initial response but this is quickly replaced by a sigh of relief when one realizes that it is just slight bleeding gums which most think is normal. Some claim that it is due to the body being too ‘heaty’, while others might just blame themselves for brushing too hard.
Bleeding gums are often times not taken seriously and in fact, many are not aware that bleeding gums can possibly signal a more serious condition. Dr. Smith, a dentist from a private dental clinic explains, “In my experience, it is quite common for people to be unaware that they have a problem with their gums and this is because in the early stages, bleeding gums may not hurt as much as a full blown toothache or abscessed tooth due to dental caries. The general perception of people who do not visit their dentists regularly for checl-ups is that if they are not in pain, it probably means that they do not have any problems with their teeth or gums.”
What Causes Bleeding gums
The following are some of the possible causes for bleeding gums:
Injury or trauma which may include tooth picking, ill-fitting dentures, improper brushing and flossing.
Tip: if your new toothbrush begins to fray after only two weeks of use, it is highly likely that you are brushing too hard and hurting your gums.
Tooth or gum-relate infections.
Blood disorders, bleeding and clotting disorders, which includes hemophilia and leukemia.
Nutritional and physiological factors such as vitamin C and vitamin K deficiency.
Pregnancy and hormonal changes.
Certain medications, i.e. continuous use of blood thinners such as aspirin, heparin therapy and treatment procedures such as chemotherapy and radiation therapy.
Dr. Smith also adds that gingivitis is the most common cause if bleeding gums. Gingivitis literally
means ‘gum inflammation’ and is characterized by the following:
Red, swollen and puffy gums
Gums bleed easily and can be painful when touched, brushed and flossed
Gums looking ‘loosely’ detached from the teeth
Bad taste in the mouth
Persistent bad breath
Gingivitis is caused by the long term effect of dental plague deposits in between the teeth. Plaque is a sticky, almost invisible film mad of different types of bacteria, mucus and food debris. It is actually soft and can be easily removed by regular tooth brushing and flossing. However, if plague is allowed to build up over a period of time, it will eventually calcify and harden to form dental calculus/tartar. The formation of calculus in turn, promotes more plague to accumulate. Unlike plague, dental calculus can only be removed by dentists using ultrasonic scalers or by manually scraping them off. It is the bacteria of plague which produces toxins causing gums to be red, swollen and bleed easily.
Dr. Smith points out that it is quite common for people to avoid brushing the areas of the gums which are bleeding, but this worsens the condition because that allows plague to continue to build up. One should continue to brush the problem areas gently and bleeding should soon stop. But if it persists, one should seek dental help.
“These days, gingivitis is the most common type of dental related diseases, even more common than dental caries. It can affect practically anyone who has teeth, even in children and generally speaking, the extent and severity of gingivitis can increase with age if plague control is not maintained.”
There are certain risk factors which may contribute to gum disease, i.e.:
Hormonal imbalance during pregnancy or even during or puberty.
Smoking. Be wary that smoking masks the early signs of gum disease and this may delay early detection to the point where advanced periodontitis sets in.
Certain drugs such as oral contraceptives, immunosuppressants, and anti-epileptic drugs.
Dangers of Bleeding Gums
Bleeding gums is a serious problem as it may either indicate the beginning of a gum disease or a serious underlying systemic problem. Bleeding gums can progressively worsen if proper treatment and care is neglected. It may start off with mild bleeding during brushing but it may worsen resulting to the recession of the gums from the teeth where bleeding then occurs more frequently. ‘If gingivitis is allowed to progress, it will eventually lead to chronic periodontitis. Periodontists is when the periodontal ligaments attaching the tooth to gum and underlying bone, and the actual bone, is destroyed. This tooth may become loose, it will hurt and sometimes even pus starts flowing out between the gums and teeth, eventually leading to tooth loss,” explains Dr. Smith.
Dr. Smith advises those with bleeding gums to seek medical help before the condition worsens, as bleeding gums per se in gingivitis is reversible, but once it progresses to periodontitis, the damage is permanent, i.e. bone and gum loss. Hence regular dental check-ups at least every six months is important in detecting the problem at its’ earliest stage.
The general perception of a gum problem is that it is contained only within the oral cavity. But in actual fact, the skin of the oral cavity is rich with blood vessels, and bleeding gums which are open wounds in the mouth, allow bacteria and toxins to enter the body’s bloodstream. Studies have shown that there is a strong association between periodontal disease and coronary disease. Uncontrolled periodontal disease can worsen cardiovascular related problems, i.e. coronary heart disease and stroke. This is said to be due to the persistence of high levels of backteria around the gums which can eventually flood into the bloodstream, causing systemic problems. Hence it is important to look out for signs of gum problems such as the following:
Gums bleeding easily
Gums looking red instead of pinkish
Pain when touched or brushed
Treating Bleeding Gums
The first step is to identify the underlying cause of bleeding gums. If it is a medical problem, one should seek the help of a doctor to treat the underlying problem whereas if the cause is dental, which is more common, the best treatment is to maintain good oral and dental hygiene.
As Dr. Smith puts it simply, “Essentially, the removal of plague and calculus stops bleeding gums and in turn promotes pink, healthy, painless gums firmly attached to teeth.”
Bleeding of the gums can be managed through applying gentle pressure with a gauze pad soaked in ice water. In addition, do rinse with warm salt water (one teaspoon of salt to one cup of water) three times a day as this helps the gums to heal quicker. In some cases, a dietary change may be necessary as sore and bleeding gums can be aggravated by citrus fruit and juices, rough or spicy food, and alcohol.
Bleeding gums is a progressive disease. One should not suffer the consequences of a condition which is very much preventable and is in fact, reversible if treated early.