If you notice you have bleeding gums, you may be tempted to ignore them. Yet it’s a symptom worth paying attention to, so you can understand the cause and treat it at an early stage. There are various reasons for bleeding gums, including poor oral hygiene, hormone fluctuations and vitamin deficiencies.
Maintaining a regular brushing regime is crucial not just for your pearly whites but for your overall gum health. If plaque accumulates near the gums, it causes irritation and bleeding. Don’t forget to gently brush the gum line, and check out our guide to the best electric toothbrushes to achieve a deep clean.
You’ll be reassured to know you can treat bleeding gums, especially if you take action in the early stages. We’ll delve into the common causes and how you can reduce your risk of developing this troubling symptom.
What are bleeding gums?
Often, the first sign of bleeding gums is when you notice blood in the sink. This is because it tends to show up when you're brushing your teeth. If your gums are sensitive or irritated, brushing can result in bleeding. That’s not an excuse to avoid brushing. Poor oral hygiene is a common cause of bleeding gums, leading to plaque and bacteria accumulating on the gum line, so knowing how to floss your teeth and how to use an electric toothbrush correctly are good steps.
Other causes of bleeding gums include gum disease, pregnancy, vitamin deficiencies, tobacco use, and over-brushing, according to the American Dental Association. Bleeding gums can also indicate more serious underlying health issues, such as leukemia – though this is not common.
What causes bleeding gums?
Bleeding gums can be a warning sign that something isn’t right. Let’s dig into the possible causes.
Gingivitis is the early stage of gum disease. “Symptoms of gingivitis include constant bad breath, swollen, red, and tender gums, and bleeding when brushing or flossing,” says Dr Jeffrey Sulitzer, the chief clinical officer at SmileDirectClub.
Gingivitis is more common than you might expect. According to the CDC, nearly half of adults over 30 have gum disease. The good news is that if you catch gum disease in the early stages, it's reversible.
“Though it depends on the severity of the issue, standard treatment can include a dentist removing plaque and tartar build-up. Since most gingivitis is caused by poor oral hygiene, your dentist will recommend establishing better oral health habits,” says Sulitzer.
Periodontitis is a more advanced stage of gum disease – when it spreads beyond the gums to the bones. “Periodontitis includes symptoms of tooth loss, receding gums, bad breath, bleeding gums, and pain when chewing and brushing,” says Sulitzer. Act early to avoid it deteriorating to the point where you may need surgery.
You’ll likely be aware of the link between eating sugary foods and cavities, but did you know your diet affects your gum health, too? “A lack of vitamins C and K could lead to bleeding gums if your diet does not contain the proper levels you need to stay healthy,” says Sulitzer.
Vitamin C is essential for collagen production, which supports optimal gum health. Don’t forget vitamin K, too. It is crucial for blood clotting, which can lessen the chances of bleeding gums.
Pregnant women are at greater risk of bleeding gums. According to the American Dental Association, hormonal fluctuations result in increased blood flow and sensitivity in the gums, making them prone to bleeding. While bleeding gums are common during pregnancy, they’re not inevitable. Speak to your health provider who can advise on how to maintain your oral health during pregnancy.
Smoking is not only linked to an increased risk of tooth staining and cavities, but it can also affect your gum health. According to the CDC, smoking is one of the main risk factors for advanced gum disease. Seek support to quit if you want a healthy smile.
Poor oral hygiene is a leading cause of bleeding gums, but did you know over-brushing can be a problem too? If you’re over-zealous with scrubbing, it can be counterproductive and result in bleeding gums, according to the American Dental Association. It might be a clue that you need to ease the pressure when brushing.
How can you treat bleeding gums?
You’ll be reassured that bleeding gums are treatable, and gum disease can be reversed if you take action in the early stages. Here’s how to keep bleeding gums at bay.
Brush twice a day
Regular brushing keeps your smile bright and maintains gum health. The American Dental Association recommends brushing twice a day for two minutes.
“Proper dental hygiene is the first step to managing bleeding gums. Brushing, flossing, and rinsing are ways to prevent them,” says Sulitzer. Use gentle, circular motions when brushing, and take your time to avoid missing spots. If you suspect you're overdoing it, opt for a soft-bristled toothbrush or invest in an electric toothbrush with a pressure sensor so you can nail your technique.
Struggling to reach those niggly bits in between your teeth? Flossing can come to the rescue. It’s a great way to remove bacteria from hard-to-reach spots. Be gentle and avoid pinging the floss against your gum line. If you struggle with traditional flossing, why not try a water flosser like the Waterpik Complete Care 9.0? They work by squirting water into the spaces between the teeth to eliminate bacteria.
Tobacco use is a leading cause of gum disease. Quitting smoking can significantly reduce your risk of bleeding gums and other oral health issues.
Eat a nutrient-dense diet
Focus on eating a well-balanced diet to make sure you’re meeting all of your nutritional needs. For healthy gums, pay attention to the amount of vitamin C in your diet. Eat more oranges, broccoli, and bell peppers. Vitamin K is also your friend for optimal gum health. Fill your plate with leafy greens like kale, spinach, and collard greens.
Why not check out our easy Mediterranean diet meal plan to start you on the right track?
See a dentist regularly
Don’t forget to see your dentist regularly. They can monitor your gum health at check-ups and pick up any issues early on.
Live Science newsletter
Stay up to date on the latest science news by signing up for our Essentials newsletter.
Louise Bond is a UK-based writer specializing in health and wellbeing. She has over eight years of experience in management within health and care and brings this passion and expertise to her writing. Louise has been published in The Guardian, Planet Mindful and Psychreg among others. She is at her happiest when she is out in nature, whether that’s on an invigorating hike or pottering in the garden.