Why do my gums bleed when I brush my teeth?


As a hygienist who works in a specialist Gum practice one of the first comments or questions is often along the lines of..."When I brush my teeth my gums bleed" or "My gums bleed when I brush my teeth".



Why does this occur?

Bleeding gums occur most often because there is irritation of the gum due to bacteria (germs) which regularly collect around the edges of the gum on the tooth. This may be gingivitis or periodontitis. Because it can be a sign of more serious disease one should see a dentist and possibly a dental hygienist for diagnosis and help.



What is Gingivitis?

Gingivitis is a gum disease, simple bleeding that can be stopped by cleaning more thoroughly both with a toothbrush and floss or interdental brushes. Most people have bleeding gums at some time in life but about one in ten suffer from periodontitis.



What is Periodontitis?

Periodontitis is a later stage of gum disease and means that the area around the tooth is damaged and there is a greatest risk of losing teeth. At the start it affects the gums, then the tiny fibres that tie in the teeth and the bone. This damage is permanent but can be halted. It is called periodontitis when some of the tissue around the tooth including some of the bone has been lost. It can affect young people too, especially in smokers and smoking can disguise the bleeding as well as hasten bone loss. In others periodontitis may slowly progress till late in life. Untreated periodontitis may start with bleeding, a bad taste, and bad breath then lead to swellings, pus, mobility or drifting of the teeth and eventual tooth loss.



Why do some People have Periodontitis?

A family history of tooth loss due to periodontal disease, and smoking bring the biggest risks and the risk is made worse by diabetes or stress. Stopping smoking is an important part of reducing the risk of developing the disease. It is possible to have the disease and not be aware of these any signs. You may have no soreness or pain and good teeth that have never had a filling. If you want to keep healthy teeth bleeding gums is a sign that all is not well with the structures around them.



What do I do about it?

If there was some gum bleeding and it hasn’t happened lately the gum disease may seem to have gone away for example, if the tooth brushing has improved or a mouthwash seems to have stopped it or it occurred in a smoker. However mouthwash and toothbrushes will not help with cleaning between the teeth. It is still important to get good advice because if the gums bleed between the teeth it is not so noticeable here. Don’t be fobbed off if you are told ‘oh mine always bleed’,’ your brushing too hard’ or ‘it’s normal’. It is a sign of gum disease that however good your teeth gums bleeding may be the first sign of a disease that may cause you to lose them.


It is essential to attend a general dental practitioner and be regular so that a special check can be made of your gums. Sometimes x-rays, carried out as part of your routine dental examinations can confirm changes in your bone levels. Your dentist may recommend a dental hygienist and you may have instruction in specific oral hygiene methods to help you control the bacteria that collect on your teeth. There may also be a need to carry out some professional cleaning of your teeth. If you are not able to stop the gums bleeding when you floss, brush, suck them or eat then ask for a referral to someone with special knowledge and experience in more complex treatments for gingivitis or periodontitis. This person can regularly measure and maintain control of what can be a destructive gum disease and report back to your dentist dental professionals work as a team.


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