Bleeding gums is generally a sign that your gums are inflamed, and that you are not brushing and/or flossing optimally. It is actually a response to bacterial biofilm (plaque) that, when left in contact with the gum tissues, causes the earliest form of gum disease, gingivitis.

What is Plaque?

Plaque is a sticky, colorless film of bacteria and sugars that constantly forms on our teeth. It is the main cause of cavities and gum disease, and can harden into tartar if not removed daily.

How Do I Know if I Have Plaque?

Everyone develops plaque because bacteria are constantly forming in our mouths. These bacteria use ingredients found in our diet and saliva to grow. Plaque causes cavities when the acids from plaque attack teeth after eating. With repeated acid attacks, the tooth enamel can break down and a cavity may form. Plaque that is not removed can also irritate the gums around your teeth, leading to gingivitis (red, swollen, bleeding gums), periodontal disease and tooth loss.

alt text Build up of plaque
alt text Example of how plaque build up causes inflammation

How Can I Prevent Plaque Build up?

It’s easy to prevent plaque build up with proper care. Make sure to:

  • Brush thoroughly at least twice a day to remove plaque from all surfaces of your teeth
  • Floss daily to remove plaque from between your teeth and under your gumline, where your toothbrush may not reach
  • Limit sugary or starchy foods, especially sticky snacks
  • Schedule regular dental visits for professional cleanings and dental examinations

“I don’t like to floss because it makes my gums bleed. If it makes my gums bleed why should I floss?”

We hear this very commonly.

Floss helps to protect your dental health by getting rid of pieces of food and plaque from between your teeth. If left to fester, this debris can build up - irritating the gums, causing inflammation and, ultimately, disease. Bleeding when you floss is a sign that the gum is inflamed but this is normally reversible. The bleeding will cease as the gums get healthy again by removing the cause of the bleeding- the plaque. The plaque can only be removed by continuing to use a mechanism to clean in between your teeth. It can take several days before the bleeding stops as you continue to floss or clean in between your teeth.

If your gums continue to bleed despite your best efforts cleaning, it is best to visit the dentist. They can thoroughly assess, and they may advise you to modify your technique of brushing or indeed suggest a course of treatment. The treatment may involve a longer appointment with the dentist for a very thorough clean under local anaesthetic to ensure that any tartar that may have formed below the gums is removed. This allows the gums to get pick and healthy again

I find floss difficult to use? Are there any alternatives?

If you floss correctly it’s a fantastic way of getting rid of the plaque between teeth and underneath the gums. But flossing requires a high level of dexterity to manipulate the floss in the mouth - particularly towards the back of the mouth - and the vast majority of people simply don’t have that degree of dexterity.

Instead of removing plaque, too many people are simply pushing the plaque that is between their teeth down underneath the gums and leaving it there — which is the last thing you want to do.

The other big problem with flossing is compliance.  It doesn’t seem to matter how many times dentists and dental hygienists advise people to floss, the reality is that only about 17 per cent of adults do it on a regular basis, say three or four times a week. And of that 17 per cent, some will not be doing it properly anyway. A better approach is to brush thoroughly, ideally with a powered toothbrush, then use an interspace or interdental brush to clean between the teeth.

There are so many of those interdental brushes on the shelves in my local pharmacy and the supermarkets. How do I know which one to choose?

For optimal cleaning, it is important to choose an interdental brush of the right size. Very often more than one brush size is needed. One of the dentists or hygienist at RDC can help to select the correct brush size/sizes for you. picture of tepe

What is tartar?

Tartar is calcified or hardened plaque that attaches to the enamel on your teeth and below the gum line. The most common sign of tartar is a yellow or brown deposit between the lower front teeth or at the gum line. Tartar need removed professionally by your dentist or hygienist.

If my gums bleed do I have gum disease?

The first stage of gum disease is gingivitis. If your gums bleed, then you probably have gingivitis. The good news is that gingivitis can be reversed.

Often bleeding gums don’t hurt and it is so common that people convince themselves that bleeding gums is normal. It should never be ignored and with the correct cleaning often your gums will return to the normal pick colour and stop bleeding when you brush.

If bleeding gums are ignored, they may become painful and infected and progress to the more serious form of gum disease called periodontitis. Periodontitis can cause the teeth to become loose. Gum disease is the most common cause of tooth loss in the US.

Smokers are at risk of the more serious form of gum disease. Watch this space for our blog on smoking and its effects. Coming soon!