Are Your Gums Bleeding? Here Are 12 Possible Causes—and What You Can Do About Them
Here are some dentist-approved ways to finally stop your gums from bleeding.
Seeing blood on your toothbrush or in the sink after brushing your teeth can be pretty unsightly. Though it’s easy to blame a vigorous flossing session or a hard-bristled toothbrush, if you find that bleeding gums are becoming an almost-daily occurrence, it might be time to contact your doctor to find out whether something else is to blame. Thankfully, "in most cases, bleeding of the gums and inflammation is not a permanent condition,” says Joseph C. DiSano, FAGD, DDS, dentist and owner of South County Smiles in Rhode Island.
Here are some of the most common causes of bleeding gums, and what to do about them.
Flossing the wrong way—and with the wrong floss
If you’re a consistent flosser and still find that your gums bleed, you might be doing it the wrong way. According to Kourosh Maddahi, DDS, a board-certified cosmetic dentist in Beverly Hills, floss isn’t actually supposed to only go between your teeth. In fact, flossing straight up and down can cut and damage your gums. Instead, Dr. Maddahi suggests creating a “C” shape with the floss around each tooth and “gently go below the gum until you cannot go any further without exerting too much pressure.” That way, you don’t miss any hidden food particles or bacteria.
When deciding what kind of floss to buy, there are a couple of things you should take into consideration. First, we all have different sized gaps between our teeth, which means one strand of the same floss won’t work for everyone. Some people might need to double up or opt for a wider or thinner brand. Second, make sure the floss you’re using isn’t toxic. According to the CDC, some types of dental floss contain chemicals called PFAS (perfluorohexane sulfonic acids), which might be linked to increased cholesterol levels, a greater risk of developing kidney or testicular cancer, an increased risk of high blood pressure, and other health concerns. The good news: Non-toxic dental floss exists, like Bite Dental Floss (2 for $12 or $5 with subscription, bitetoothpastebits.com), which is 100 percent plant-based and made with vegan candelilla wax. Plus, it’s plastic-free, isn’t coated with any artificial flavors, and as an added bonus, comes in a refillable glass bottle with compostable refill pouches. Bonus points for saving the earth and saving your gums, right?
Inconsistent oral hygiene
This one might be a given, but not regularly brushing and flossing your teeth can be major contributors to bleeding gums. Some people avoid flossing altogether because it makes their gums bleed—but if that’s the case, you should actually be flossing more. “By not flossing or inconsistently flossing, you will be missing about 35 percent of the plaque and biofilm between your teeth,” says Dr. DiSano. It’s important to note that some oral hygiene products can actually contribute to bleeding gums too. More specifically, “Antiseptic products, including mouthwash and toothpaste, that destroy the oral microbiome,” says Dr. Maddahi.
We know it’s super easy to skip brushing or flossing, especially if you’re exhausted at the end of the day, but trust us—keep your oral hygiene routine consistent. “You might be surprised to learn that even a temporary lapse in otherwise stellar oral hygiene sometimes causes bleeding gums,” says Lana Rozenberg, DDS, a board-certified cosmetic dentist at Rozenberg Dental NYC. “Research shows healthy gums can become bleeding and diseased gums with just one day off proper oral care.”
Gingivitis is the term for inflammation of the gums, typically caused by plaque and tartar buildup and an increase in bacteria levels, says Dr. DiSano. Gingivitis is also the first stage of gum disease—but don’t worry, it’s super common and is a reversible condition. Poor oral hygiene is usually the primary cause of gingivitis, so your safest bet to stop your gums from bleeding is to set up a deep cleaning appointment with your dentist. In the interim, be sure to thoroughly floss and really brush your teeth—don’t forget about the teeth way in the back of your mouth!
Many health insurances cover biannual dental visits, so you should check into whether or not yours does, too. During those visits, your dentist might notice subtle changes in your teeth and gums that you might have otherwise overlooked. By catching these issues early on, it’s usually easier to treat them. Plus, “your dentist and dental hygienist may recommend preventative procedures such as fluoride treatments or a change to your routine cleaning procedures frequency if you have existing medical conditions,” says Dr. DiSanto.
Periodontal (gum) disease is non-reversible and can occur if gingivitis isn’t taken care of properly. Its symptoms can range from bleeding gums and bad breath to tooth mobility and malocclusion (read: misaligned teeth). If left untreated, periodontal disease can result in bone loss and has been linked to other medical conditions, like diabetes and heart disease, says Dr. DiSano. If your teeth feel a little wobbly, set up an appointment with your dentist as soon as possible.
If your dentist determines that your gum inflammation is the result of periodontal disease, you're going to need a professional deep cleaning. “It’s imperative to follow through with this treatment,” says Dr. DiSano. “This procedure, completed by a dental hygienist, removes the inflammation, plaque, tartar, and buildup below the gumline, removing the cause of inflammation at the root.”
Tooth infections can develop as a result of various reasons, like cavities or decay. Some signs of infection can be swelling, a foul taste in your mouth, throbbing pain, sensitivity to heat, or spontaneous pain, says Dr. DiSano. “If a tooth becomes infected, it is possible that the infection will work its way out through the gums, causing a pimple-like bubble,” says Dr. DiSano. “This bubble may bleed and be painful to the touch.” Tooth infections should be treated by your dentist immediately to avoid further infection.
Some medications, like blood thinners, can have side effects that include gingival hyperplasia. “Blood thinning medications decrease the blood’s ability to clot, leading to easier bleeding especially at the gumline,” says Dr. Rozenberg. Some other medications that might cause your gums to bleed are antidepressants and blood pressure medications.
Telling your dentist about new medications is crucial when it comes to diagnosing conditions like bleeding gums and other oral issues, says Dr. Rozenberg. Even if you’ve been taking Advil more often lately, that’s important for them to know.
Poor orthodontic hygiene
Similar to how poor oral hygiene can result in gum disease, poor orthodontic hygiene can be another contributor to bleeding gums. “When orthodontics are present, it is especially important to be cognizant of the increased challenges with cleaning your teeth on a regular basis,” says Dr. DiSano. It’s easy to overlook brushing small, hidden spots on your teeth when you’re wearing braces or other orthodontic devices, but part of achieving that perfect, straight smile you’ve always wanted is keeping up with your oral hygiene—even if that means putting in some extra effort.
Investing in an electric toothbrush and water flosser might be worth it to keep your orthodontic hygiene in check, according to Nammy Patel, DDS, a holistic dentist based in San Francisco, Calif. “Electric toothbrushes can rotate from 3,000 to 7,000 strokes per minute. At the most, a person using a manual toothbrush generates about 300 strokes per minute,” she explains. “As for the water flosser, most people don't take the time to floss correctly—if they floss at all. That's why I recommend a water flosser. Using it at the highest setting can get in between all those teeth.”
Pro tip: Most dentists recommend using a soft-bristled brush to avoid bleeding gums, says Dr. Rozenberg.
We all know that smoking is bad for you, and gum inflammation is just another one of its side effects. Since smoking inhibits blood flow, the lack of oxygen getting to your gums can lead to inflammation. If your gums don’t heal properly, you might experience bleeding during brushing, says Rashmi Byakodi, BDS, the editor of Best for Nutrition. If you can’t quit smoking, talk to your doctor about what you can do to stop your gums from bleeding.
Your body can undergo tons of unfamiliar changes while you’re pregnant. Unsurprisingly, bleeding gums aren’t exempt from the long list. Thanks to an increase in good ol’ hormones, your blood flow to your gums can also climb, which can make them super sensitive to plaque and bacteria, says Dr. Rozenberg. The result? Tender gums and bleeding during brushing. To find ways to lessen the amount of gum bleeding you might be experiencing during pregnancy, set up an appointment with your doctor.
Eating processed foods
In case you need another reason to opt for organic foods, some ingredients in processed foods can irritate your gums and cause minor bleeding. If you find that you’re prone to bleeding gums, Dr. Maddahi says sugar, fried foods, synthetic preservatives, artificial coloring and flavorings, and meats with hormones might be the culprits.
The solution? Try to revamp parts of your diet. “Fruits and veggies, along with calcium, vitamins C and D, and magnesium, are critical components of oral health,” says Dr. Rozenberg. “Make sure you get your daily recommended dose of these nutrients.”
Stress and anxiety
While stress and anxiety might not be directly correlated to your bleeding gums, they can definitely be contributors. Piling stress can result in inflammation in the blood vessels, which can break down soft tissues in your mouth and make it more difficult to heal bleeding gums. It can also compromise your immune system, which can make it even harder to fight off gum disease, says Dr. Rozenberg.
Autoimmune and systemic diseases
Bleeding gums can sometimes be a symptom of certain autoimmune diseases, says Cathy Hung, DDS, a board-certified oral and maxillofacial surgeon. “Lichen planus is an autoimmune disease which can manifest as a white patch or a red/white patch in the mouth,” says Dr. Hung. “This diagnosis needs to be confirmed by biopsy only.”
Some systemic diseases and disorders, such as hemophilia, may also cause bleeding gums. These people may bleed from the gum spontaneously or after a simple cleaning procedure, says Dr. Hung.