Why your gums bleed – and why you should never ignore it

Do your gums ever bleed during or after brushing? And what do you do when this happens? In our dental practices, we are constantly amazed by the number of patients who cheerfully inform us that their gums have been bleeding as if this was something everyday and unremarkable. When you think about it, this is quite an extraordinary reaction: would these same patients have the same unflustered reaction if their eyes or ears started bleeding without obvious cause? In fact, bleeding gums are a sign that all is not well in your mouth and that should be taken seriously. So why do your gums bleed? Is it because you have been cleaning your teeth too frequently or aggressively? Should you avoid flossing if that causes the bleeding? No – on both counts. The bleeding is actually a sign that your gum tissue has become inflamed. Gum inflammation is in turn caused by the build up of plaque around your teeth, which is made up of sticky combination of bacteria and proteins called a “biofilm”. If left on the surfaces of your teeth for longer than 24 hours, plaque can lead not only to inflammation but also to tooth decay (in which the plaque uses the sugars in our diets to break down the structure of our teeth) and gum disease (in which the plaque interacts with your body tissues in a way that loosens your teeth’s attachment to your gums).

Thankfully, there is a simple three-point plan to stop the problem of inflamed and bleeding gums at source:

1. Brush your teeth twice a day using an electric toothbrush, which is significantly better at removing the sticky plaque from your teeth than a conventional toothbrush. When brushing, the head should be angled at 45 degrees to the line of your gums and you should spend at least two minutes brushing.

2. Always clean between your teeth. This should be done using dental floss or interdental brushes at least once a day and is designed to remove the sticky layer of plaque (and not remnants of your lunch!). Brushing your teeth alone will not remove the plaque from these areas and neither will mouthwash, as the plaque is too sticky to simply be rinsed way.

3. Visit your dentist and hygienist regularly. The frequency of your appointments will depend on your own medical history and personal risk factors and can vary from an annual check-up to a visit every couple of months. The key thing to remember is that nearly all dental health problems are now completely preventable, and there is no need to suffer in silence. So the next time your gums start to bleed during brushing, remember that the first person you should tell is your dentist.

Dr. Mike Heffernan and Dr. Toby Edwards-Lunn are practising dentists with more than 50 years’ combined experience. They are also the inventors of Dr. Heff’s Remarkable Mints, a sugar-free mint that cleans and restores teeth and is endorsed by Toothfriendly International.