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Bleeding gums and gum disease
Dr Manasi Bhansali Reviewed by Dr Manasi Bhansali, Dentist

Sometimes bleeding gums can be a sign of gum disease. Find out how to stop gums from bleeding and lower your risk of gum problems.

Do your gums bleed or feel sore when you brush your teeth? Red, swollen or bleeding gums could mean you're brushing your teeth too roughly, but they can also be signs of gum disease or another health problem.

Gum disease (periodontal disease) can affect people of all ages. It can usually be reversed in its early stages by improving your oral hygiene, but usually a dentist or specialist will need to treat more advanced gum disease.

What causes gums to bleed?

 Bleeding gums and gum irritation can be signs of gum disease, but there may be other causes, including:

  • the use of blood-thinning medication
  • how you brush or floss your teeth
  • illnesses or health conditions like vitamin deficiencies 
  • braces, dentures or appliances that aren’t fitting properly
  • pregnancy.

If your gums are still bleeding after more than a week of regular brushing and flossing, speak to a doctor or dentist. 

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How common is gum disease?

According to the latest national oral health surveys, gum disease is widespread in Australia across all age groups.1,2

  • 22% of children and 20% of adults have mild gum disease (gingivitis)
  • Moderate or severe gum disease (periodontitis) gets more common with age, affecting 7.4% of people aged 15–34, 25% of people aged 35–54, 44% of people aged 55–74 and 61% of people over 75

The good news is, you can lower your risk of gum disease with good oral care.

What causes gum disease?

Like tooth decay, gum disease can be caused by bacteria that build up on the teeth in a sticky film called plaque. When these bacteria reach the gum line, they may infect the gums.

Your body's immune system often tries to fight this infection, triggering inflammation. This can make your gums appear red or swollen, feel more sensitive, or bleed more easily.

You'll be at higher risk of developing gum disease if you smoke, are , or aren’t practicing proper oral hygiene at home.

Gum disease has been associated with chronic diseases including oral cancer, heart disease, lung diseases, diabetes, stroke and pregnancy complications, so it’s important to maintain regular dental and medical check-ups.3

What are the signs of gum disease?

There are two main types of gum disease: gingivitis and periodontitis.

Gingivitis

Gingivitis is the earlier stage of gum disease. Your gums may feel painful or sensitive, but there won't normally be permanent damage to your teeth or gums if you get treatment in time.

Early gum disease signs can include:

  • red, swollen or irritated gums
  • bleeding around one tooth or multiple teeth when you brush, floss or eat
  • bad breath or a bad taste in your mouth that won't go away.

Periodontitis

If gingivitis isn't treated, it can develop into periodontitis. This is the more advanced stage of gum disease that can start to cause permanent damage to your gums and the structures that hold your teeth in place. If left untreated, severe periodontitis may cause teeth to become loose or fall out

Signs of more advanced gum disease can include:

  • toothache and sensitivity
  • receding gums
  • teeth feeling lose or falling out

To understand whether gum disease is causing your symptoms, a dentist will need to examine your gums and reach a diagnosis. If there is any gum disease, a dental professional can use tools like x-rays to help you understand how advanced the gum disease may be. They’ll also recommend a treatment plan.

Gum disease treatments

When you visit your dentist for a check-up, they'll examine your mouth and may use dental x-rays to try and detect any signs of gum disease. If they do find signs of gingivitis or periodontitis, they'll discuss the most suitable treatment options for you.

Gingivitis treatment may involve professional cleaning and scaling to remove plaque and hardened plaque (tartar) from your teeth. They may offer oral hygiene advice that’s tailored to your circumstances—for example, advice on how to clean parts of your mouth that are especially hard for you to reach or specific tips for improving your brushing technique.

Periodontitis treatment is more complex. It may involve oral surgery* to remove infected tissue, clean the teeth roots and disinfect the gums. In some instances, a dentist might refer you to a specialist.

*Any surgical or invasive procedure carries risks. Before proceeding, you should seek a second opinion from an appropriately qualified health practitioner.

How to stop gums from bleeding

You can lower your risk of gum disease by maintaining good oral hygiene every day. Dentists recommend:

  • brushing your teeth twice a day, for two minutes, using fluoride toothpaste 
  • using a soft-bristled toothbrush 
  • flossing between your teeth once a day to remove any trapped plaque and food
  • using an antibacterial mouthwash, if recommended by your dentist
  • avoiding sugary food and drink as much as possible, especially between meals
  • drinking lots of water throughout the day, especially tap water containing fluoride
  • avoiding tobacco, whether smoked or chewed
  • cleaning dentures twice a day if you have dentures
  • visiting a dentist for regular check-ups and professional cleaning, as often as they recommend.

Speak with a professional

Only a qualified healthcare professional can tell you if gum disease is causing your bleeding gums or irritation. Likewise, a dentist or doctor will be best-placed to help you understand if something other than gingivitis or periodontitis is causing your gums to bleed.

Want to find a dentist near you? Search for hundreds of dental clinics.

 

 *Any surgical or invasive procedure carries risks. Before proceeding, you should seek a second opinion from an appropriately qualified health practitioner.

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1 Do LG & Spencer AJ (Editors) 2016. Oral health of Australian children: the National Child Oral Health Study 2012–14. Adelaide: University of Adelaide Press.

2 Slade GD, Spencer AJ, Roberts-Thomson KF (Editors) 2007. Australia’s dental generations: the National Survey of Adult Oral Health 2004–06. Dental Statistics and Research series no. 34. AIHW cat. no. DEN 165. Canberra: AIHW.

3 DHSV (Dental Health Services Victoria). Links between oral health and general health - the case for action: Dental Health Services Victoria. [Online] 20119 [Accessed May 2019] Available from: www.dhsv.org.au

4 healthdirect. Bleeding gums and dental bleeding. [Online] 2017 [Accessed May 2019] Available from: www.healthdirect.gov.au

5 healthdirect. Gum disease. [Online] 2019 [Accessed May 2019] Available from: www.healthdirect.gov.au

6 Better Health Channel. Gum disease. [Online] 2018 [Accessed May 2019] Available from: www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au

This purpose of this article is to promote better understanding of dental health topics. It’s not meant to replace professional advice or diagnosis. Always talk to a dentist, doctor or other qualified healthcare professional if you have a question about dental or medical conditions.

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