Posts for: April, 2016
Are bleeding gums something you should be concerned about? Dear Doctor magazine recently posed that question to Dr. Travis Stork, an emergency room physician and host of the syndicated TV show The Doctors. He answered with two questions of his own: “If you started bleeding from your eyeball, would you seek medical attention?” Needless to say, most everyone would. “So,” he asked, “why is it that when we bleed all the time when we floss that we think it’s no big deal?” As it turns out, that’s an excellent question — and one that’s often misunderstood.
First of all, let’s clarify what we mean by “bleeding all the time.” As many as 90 percent of people occasionally experience bleeding gums when they clean their teeth — particularly if they don’t do it often, or are just starting a flossing routine. But if your gums bleed regularly when you brush or floss, it almost certainly means there’s a problem. Many think bleeding gums is a sign they are brushing too hard; this is possible, but unlikely. It’s much more probable that irritated and bleeding gums are a sign of periodontal (gum) disease.
How common is this malady? According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, nearly half of allÂ Americans over age 30 have mild, moderate or severe gum disease — and that number increases to 70.1 percent for those over 65! Periodontal disease can occur when a bacteria-rich biofilm in the mouth (also called plaque) is allowed to build up on tooth and gum surfaces. Plaque causes the gums to become inflamed, as the immune system responds to the bacteria. Eventually, this can cause gum tissue to pull away from the teeth, forming bacteria-filled “pockets” under the gum surface. If left untreated, it can lead to more serious infection, and even tooth loss.
What should you do if your gums bleed regularly when brushing or flossing? The first step is to come in for a thorough examination. In combination with a regular oral exam (and possibly x-rays or other diagnostic tests), a simple (and painless) instrument called a periodontal probe can be used to determine how far any periodontal disease may have progressed. Armed with this information, we can determine the most effective way to fight the battle against gum disease.
Above all, don’t wait too long to come in for an exam! As Dr. Stork notes, bleeding gums are “a sign that things aren’t quite right.” Â If you would like more information about bleeding gums, please contact us or schedule an appointment. You can read more in the Dear Doctor magazine article “Bleeding Gums.” You can read the entire interview with Dr. Travis Stork in Dear Doctor magazine.
That bit of gum bleeding after you brush, along with redness and swelling, are strong signs you have gingivitis, a form of periodontal (gum) disease. Without treatment, though, your gingivitis could turn into something much more painful and unsightly — a condition commonly known as “trench mouth.”
Properly known as Acute Necrotizing Ulcerative Gingivitis (ANUG), the more colorful name arose from its frequent occurrence among soldiers during World War I. Although not contagious, many soldiers contracted it due to a lack of means to properly clean their teeth and gums and the anxiety associated with war. Inadequate hygiene and high stress still contribute to its occurrence today, along with smoking, medications that dry the mouth and reduced disease resistance — all of which create a perfect environment for bacterial growth.
ANUG can arise suddenly and be very painful. The cells in the gum tissue begin to die (“necrotizing”) and become swollen (“ulcerative”), especially the small triangle of gum tissue between the teeth called the papillae, which can appear yellowish. Patients also encounter a characteristic foul breath and taste. Untreated, ANUG can damage tissue and contribute to future tooth loss.
Fortunately, antibiotics and other treatments are quite effective in eradicating bacteria that cause the disease, so if caught early it’s completely reversible. We start with a complete examination to confirm the diagnosis and rule out other possible causes.Â We then attempt to relieve the pain and inflammation with non-steroidal, anti-inflammatory drugs like aspirin or ibuprofen and begin antibiotic treatment, most notably Metronidazole or amoxicillin. We may also prescribe a mouthrinse containing chlorhexidine and mild salt water rinses to further reduce the symptoms.
We must also treat any underlying gingivitis that gave rise to the more acute disease. Our goal here is remove any bacterial plaque and calculus (hardened plaque deposits) that have built up on tooth surfaces, particularly below the gums. Only then can we fully bring the disease under control.
It’s also important you become more consistent and effective with daily brushing and flossing, quit smoking, reduce undue stress, and get better rest and nutrition. Establishing these new habits and lifestyle changes will help ensure you’ll never have to experience trench mouth again.
If you would like more information on ANUG and other periodontal gum conditions, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Painful Gums in Teens & Adults.”