It’s always alarming when you spot blood in the sink when you’re brushing your teeth and it’s a natural reaction to immediately stop brushing – after all, surely brushing the area will aggravate it and cause it to bleed more?
This isn’t the case, says dentist Doctor Rhona Eskander of the Chelsea Dental Clinic. "The worst thing you can do is avoid brushing that area," she cautions. Instead, you should actually continue brushing, particularly in the area where blood is coming from. Why? Because bleeding gums are a symptom of gum disease, or gingivitis, a sign that you haven’t been cleaning that area effectively. "Ignore the bleeding. It will get worse before it gets better, so just keep on brushing."
“Gum disease occurs when you have failed to eliminate the plaque from the surface of your teeth during routine brushing and flossing,” explains dentist Sunny Sihra owner of the Simply Teeth Clinic in Essex. The build-up of plaque in that area results in swollen, tender gums that bleed when you brush and floss.
It's vital not to ignore bleeding gums, as gum disease can have a serious knock-on effect on your health as it has been linked to heart disease and heart attacks diabetes, strokes and rheumatoid arthritis. Inflammation can enter the bloodstream and the NHS points out that it is believed to slowly damage blood vessels in the heart and brain over a long period of time.
You’re not alone in immediately downing tools when you see blood in the sink; according to a 2019 survey by the Oral Health Foundation, almost one in five people immediately stop brushing, while nearly one in ten stops brushing altogether. “The last thing we should be doing if we experience bleeding gums is stopping brushing - even if the area is tender,” warns Doctor Zainab Al Mukhtar of Harrow on the Hill Dental . “If our gums are bleeding it is because we need to brush more or amend our brushing method to make it more effective.”
What causes bleeding gums?
As well as the build-up of plaque leading to gum disease and bleeding gums, there are other reasons you might spit blood when brushing. None of these reasons mean you should stop brushing either!
Some medications such as blood thinners can cause your gums to bleed more easily says Sunny. "These medications decrease the blood's ability to clot which can lead to easier bleeding. Let your dentist and doctor know about your experience and any medications you may be on," says Dr Kamala Aydazada, founder of Kensington Cosmetic Dentist .
Lack of flossing
If you stop flossing for a while then begin again, this can result in bleeding gums temporarily while they get used to more thorough cleaning again. “Even not flossing one area for a day or two can result in bleeding when you go back to that area,” warns dental hygienist Theodora Little, from Curaprox .
The wrong toothbrush
A very hard-bristled toothbrush can feel like it’s giving a superior clean, but this isn’t always the case. “If you find your gums bleed you should revert to a softer bristled toothbrush,” advises Sunny. “A softer brush will be kinder to your gums. If you are not sure what sort of toothbrush suits your teeth, ask for advice from your dentist. They will be able to point you in the right direction.” We like Curaprox's 5460 toothbrush , £4.65. It's very soft and comes in fun colours.
During pregnancy some women find their gums become swollen and unexpectedly bleed. “This is referred to as pregnancy gingivitis,” explains Sunny, “It is known to take place due to changes in hormone activity experienced while pregnant. When pregnant, hormones affect the way the body responds to the bacteria that may cause gum disease.”
What to do about bleeding gums
As well as continuing to brush, there are other steps to help with your bleeding gums.
Adjust how you brush your teeth
We all know to brush our teeth at least twice a day but how we brush them is key too. Dr Rhona recommends getting an electric toothbrush, placing it on the area that is bleeding and concentrating on that area. Don't neglect the rest of your mouth though; make sure each area gets equal attention. “I suggest patients split their mouths into four areas and brush each for thirty seconds and during this time to brush the front, back, top and between each tooth,” says Doctor Zainab. “Try not to apply too much pressure when you brush as this can lead gums to bleed more and may ultimately cause them to recede. If you do use a manual toothbrush, use small circular motions rather than aggressive horizontal brushing. This is more likely to allow the bristles to reach between the teeth and is also less abrasive.”
"Take extra care and spend some more time when cleaning around uneven surfaces, such as closely-packed teeth, crooked teeth, crowns, dentures and fillings," advises Dr Kamala.
Use interdental brushes or floss
A toothbrush cannot reach between the teeth like interdental brushes or floss can so it’s important to get into these areas another way, otherwise, pockets of plaque may build up potentially causing problems for our gums. “When you first start using interdental brushes or floss it is not uncommon for your gums to bleed,” says Zainab. “If this happens it is important to persist and keep going. After a week or two, the bleeding should stop.” Try Curaprox interdental brushes.
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