Bleeding gums and bad breath can be much more than embarrassing inconveniences; they're warning signs that you are on the road toward periodontal disease. Consider them some of the red flags indicating your teeth need a professional dose of TLC to get back on the right track. Periodontal disease is another word for gum disease, which starts when stubborn plaque isn’t removed despite brushing and flossing. When the plaque is not removed, it develops into tartar, which can only be removed through the skills of a dental hygienist. The bacteria in tartar and plaque can cause a gum inflammation called gingivitis, which causes bleeding and red gums. The good news is that gingivitis can be reversed by daily and diligent brushing, flossing and regular dental checkups. The bad news? If gingivitis is not treated, it can get worse, eventually becoming periodontitis.
In periodontitis, the gums pull away from the teeth, creating small pockets that trap bacteria and become infected. If not treated, the infection damages gums, tissue and the supporting bone structure of the teeth—causing them to loosen and eventually have to be removed. Symptoms of periodontitis include:
- Bad breath that won’t go away
- Red or swollen gums
- Tender or bleeding gums
- Painful chewing
- Loose teeth
- Sensitive teeth
- Receding gums (which make teeth appear longer)
How To Avoid Periodontal Disease
Do you have any of the following risk factors? If so, be sure to follow-up with a dentist to assess your risk for periodontal disease.
- Smoking: Need another reason to quit smoking? It’s one of the most significant risk factors associated with the development of gum disease. Additionally, smoking can lower the chances of successful gum disease treatment.
- Hormonal changes in girls/women: These changes can make gums more sensitive and therefore easier for gingivitis to develop.
- Diabetes: People with diabetes are at higher risk for developing infections, including gum disease.
- Other illnesses and their treatments: Diseases such as AIDS and its treatments can also negatively affect the health of gums. In addition, any treatments that compromise the immune system—such as chemotherapy—weaken the gums and may increase risk.
- Medications: There are hundreds of prescription and over-the-counter medications that can reduce the flow of saliva (“dry mouth.”) Saliva is important because it helps protect the mouth, and without enough saliva, the mouth is vulnerable to infections. Other medicines can cause abnormal gum tissue overgrowth, making it more difficult to keep teeth and gums clean.
- Genetic susceptibility: Some people are more prone to severe gum disease than others.
Remember, if your gums bleed regularly when flossing or brushing, or if you have any of the warning signs listed above, schedule an appointment with your dentist as soon as possible. There are effective treatments for gum disease. Often this involves a deep cleaning called “scaling and root planning” where the dentist removes plaque and tartar that have developed under the gum line. Once removed, the tissue has time to heal.
Sources: American Academy of Periodontology. “Types of Gum Disease.” American Dental Association. “Treating Periodontal Diseases.” National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research. “Gum (Periodontal) Diseases.”