Bleeding gums usually occur when your toothbrushing and flossing aren’t up to par. This leads to a buildup of plaque, an invisible, sticky film that forms when the food you eat — especially sweets — interacts with bacteria that live in your mouth. Brushing your teeth gets rid of plaque, but not for long: It’s back again after about 24 hours.
If plaque stays on your teeth for a few days, it can harden into tartar. Tartar is stubborn, resisting even good brushing and flossing, and eventually it irritates the gum area around the base of your teeth. This area, called the gingiva, then becomes swollen and bleeds when you brush.
Some people, especially those who eat a poor diet or smoke, are more prone to bleeding gums. Having an immune-lowering health condition like HIV/AIDS also plays a role, as does going through the hormonal changes of puberty, pregnancy, or menopause, or taking certain medications. And having misaligned teeth or dental restorations that don’t fit well can add to the problem.
You can give plaque the brush-off and keep your gums healthy with the following tips:
- Get regular professional dental cleanings at least every six to twelve months. Get them more often if you’re at higher than normal risk for developing gingivitis.
- Brush your teeth at least twice a day — once in the morning and before going to bed. Even better, brush after every snack or meal.
- Use a soft toothbrush or an electric toothbrush, and replace it every three to four months. Brush with a fluoride toothpaste to prevent tooth decay.
- Floss your teeth every day.
- Use antibacterial, alcohol-free mouth rinse to reduce plaque between your teeth.
- Try disclosing tablets. Sold at most drugstores, these tablets make plaque visible by staining it. You can then brush the stain (and plaque) away.
If your gums are tender or bleed, the first step is to make an appointment with your dentist. Don’t wait: Gingivitis that goes untreated can progress to a more serious form of gum disease that may eventually lead to lost teeth. But stopping gingivitis early with a professional dental cleaning will restore your gums to good health.
Your dentist will remove plaque and tartar and may also prescribe a form of antibiotic (you’ll either swallow it, apply it to your gums, or rinse out your mouth with it to reduce the bacteria that cause gingivitis). Dentists often also recommend antibacterial toothpaste that helps keep plaque at bay. If your gum disease is severe, you may need surgery to repair the affected tissue or bone.
See your dentist regularly for professional cleanings and take good care of your teeth and gums at home. It’s the best way to prevent gingivitis and guarantee a healthy smile for a lifetime.