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Bleeding gums

Definition

Bleeding gums can be a sign that you have or may develop gum disease. Ongoing gum bleeding may be due to plaque buildup on the teeth. It can also be a sign of a serious medical condition.

Alternative Names

Gums - bleeding

Causes

The main cause of bleeding gums is the buildup of plaque at the gum line. This will lead to a condition called gingivitis, or inflamed gums.

Plaque that is not removed will harden into tartar. This will lead to increased bleeding and a more advanced form of gum and jawbone disease known as periodontitis.

Other causes of bleeding gums include:

  • Any bleeding disorder
  • Brushing too hard
  • Hormonal changes during pregnancy
  • Ill-fitting dentures or other dental appliances
  • Improper flossing
  • Infection, which can be either in a tooth or the gum
  • Leukemia, a type of blood cancer
  • Scurvy, a vitamin C deficiency
  • Use of blood thinners
  • Vitamin K deficiency

Home Care

Visit the dentist at least once every 6 months for plaque removal. Follow your dentist's home care instructions.

Brush your teeth gently with a soft-bristle toothbrush at least twice a day. It is best if you can brush after every meal. Also, flossing teeth twice a day can prevent plaque from building up.

Your dentist may tell you to rinse with salt water or hydrogen peroxide and water. DO NOT use mouthwashes that contain alcohol, which can make the problem worse.

It can help to follow a balanced, healthy diet. Try to avoid snacking between meals and cut down on the carbohydrates you eat.

Other tips to help with bleeding gums:

  • Have a periodontal exam.
  • DO NOT use tobacco, since it makes bleeding gums worse.
  • Control gum bleeding by applying pressure directly on the gums with a gauze pad soaked in ice water.
  • If you have been diagnosed with a vitamin deficiency, take vitamin supplements.
  • Avoid aspirin unless your health care provider has recommended that you take it.
  • If side effects of a medicine are causing the bleeding gums, ask your doctor to prescribe a different drug. Never change your medicine without first talking to your doctor.
  • Use an oral irrigation device on the low setting to massage your gums.
  • See your dentist if your dentures or other dental appliances do not fit well or are causing sore spots on your gums.
  • Follow your dentist's instructions on how to brush and floss so you can avoid hurting your gums. 

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Consult your provider if:

  • The bleeding is severe or long-term (chronic)
  • Your gums continue to bleed even after treatment
  • You have other unexplained symptoms with the bleeding

What to Expect at Your Office Visit

Your dentist will examine your teeth and gums and ask you about the problem. Your dentist will also ask about your oral care habits. You may also be asked about your diet and the medicines you take.

Tests that may be performed include:

  • Blood studies such as a CBC (complete blood count) or blood differential
  • X-rays of your teeth and jawbone

References

Appelbaum FR. Acute leukemia in adults. In: Niederhuber JE, Armitage JO, Doroshow JH, Kastan MB, Tepper JE, eds. Abeloff's Clinical Oncology. 5th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2013:chap 98.

Chow AW. Infections of the oral cavity, neck, and head. In: Bennett JE, Dolin R, Blaser MJ, eds. Mandell, Douglas, and Bennett's Principles and Practice of Infectious Diseases. 8th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2014:chap 65.

Review Date: 
2/22/2016
Reviewed By: 
Michael Kapner, DDS, general and aesthetic dentistry, Norwalk Medical Center, Norwalk, CT. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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