Are bleeding gums something you should be concerned about? Dear Doctor magazine recently posed that question to Dr. Travis Stork, an emergency room physician and host of the syndicated TV show The Doctors. He answered with two questions of his own: “If you started bleeding from your eyeball, would you seek medical attention?” Needless to say, most everyone would. “So,” he asked, “why is it that when we bleed all the time when we floss that we think it’s no big deal?” As it turns out, that’s an excellent question — and one that’s often misunderstood.
First of all, let’s clarify what we mean by “bleeding all the time.” As many as 90 percent of people occasionally experience bleeding gums when they clean their teeth — particularly if they don’t do it often, or are just starting a flossing routine. But if your gums bleed regularly when you brush or floss, it almost certainly means there’s a problem. Many think bleeding gums is a sign they are brushing too hard; this is possible, but unlikely. It’s much more probable that irritated and bleeding gums are a sign of periodontal (gum) disease.
How common is this malady? According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, nearly half of allÂ Americans over age 30 have mild, moderate or severe gum disease — and that number increases to 70.1 percent for those over 65! Periodontal disease can occur when a bacteria-rich biofilm in the mouth (also called plaque) is allowed to build up on tooth and gum surfaces. Plaque causes the gums to become inflamed, as the immune system responds to the bacteria. Eventually, this can cause gum tissue to pull away from the teeth, forming bacteria-filled “pockets” under the gum surface. If left untreated, it can lead to more serious infection, and even tooth loss.
What should you do if your gums bleed regularly when brushing or flossing? The first step is to come in for a thorough examination. In combination with a regular oral exam (and possibly x-rays or other diagnostic tests), a simple (and painless) instrument called a periodontal probe can be used to determine how far any periodontal disease may have progressed. Armed with this information, we can determine the most effective way to fight the battle against gum disease.
Above all, don’t wait too long to come in for an exam! As Dr. Stork notes, bleeding gums are “a sign that things aren’t quite right.” Â If you would like more information about bleeding gums, please contact us or schedule an appointment. You can read more in the Dear Doctor magazine article “Bleeding Gums.” You can read the entire interview with Dr. Travis Stork in Dear Doctor magazine.
There are two basic facts about tooth decay: 1) next to the common cold, it’s the world’s most prevalent infectious disease; and 2) with modern dentistry, it’s preventable.
Getting from Fact 1 to Fact 2 requires the daily hygiene habits of brushing and flossing. You probably learned these tasks when you could barely peer over the bathroom sink; but the real question is: are you getting the most benefit from your efforts? It’s not merely doing them, but doing them the right way.
For example, bearing down on your teeth and brushing vigorously isn’t just unhelpful, it’s damaging. Instead, you should hold your brush with perhaps just two fingers at a 45-degree angle relative to your gum line and “gently” scrub with short circular or “wiggly” strokes. Continue this action around each arch brushing all tooth surfaces, which should take about two minutes.
Your toothbrush itself is also important: most people (unless otherwise directed by their dentist) should use a multi-tufted brush with soft bristles. If you brush with the proper pressure it should last 4 to 6 months before replacing it. You should also replace it if the bristles become worn or splayed.
Flossing once a day is important for removing the plaque between teeth your toothbrush bristles can’t reach. The best technique is to form a “C” with the floss that wraps around each tooth and move it up and down gently three or four times until you hear a squeaky clean sound on both sides of the tooth.
The ultimate test of your efforts comes during your regular dental checkups. You can get a check now, though, on how you’re doing by using your tongue to feel your teeth at the gum line. If they feel smooth and slick, you’re probably doing a good job of plaque removal; but if they feel a bit rough and gritty, you’re missing some of the plaque and need to be more thorough when brushing. You can also use floss by running it up and down the tooth surface — if it squeaks, they’re clean!
Your particular dental condition may require specific treatment or the use of other dental products like antibacterial mouthrinses. But learning and practicing proper brushing and flossing is key to keeping teeth and gums healthy and disease-free.