Bleeding gums: What it means and why smokers need to be extra careful!

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Bleeding gums can indicate an infection.
Bleeding gums can indicate an infection.

Did you know that 80% of all teeth lost in the mouth is due to gum disease? Scary stuff if you consider that bleeding gums are the first sign of gum disease.  

But there’s a silver lining to this shocker. “The dental field is lucky as we know exactly what the cause of oral diseases like tooth decay and gum disease are and that is plaque,” Angelique Kearney, president of the Oral Hygienist Association of South Africa, explains. 

Why do gums bleed?  

Healthy gums do not bleed! If you have bleeding gums when brushing or flossing your teeth, you have gingivitis or gum infection, according to Kearney. Although infection of the gum surrounding the tooth is the most common reason why gums bleed, there are other conditions that can also cause bleeding gums.  

“Recent research supports the findings that bleeding gums and an unhealthy mouth has a link with uncontrolled diabetes, high blood pressure, premature birth weight of babies and cholesterol,” Kearney says.  

According to Dr Welgemoed, a professional dentist at Longbeach Dental Noordhoek, other reasons for bleeding gums can include:  

·         Hormonal changes during pregnancy and adolescence 
·         Side effects from medication 
·         Malnutrition 
·         Ulcers  
·         Dental Abscess 
·         Oral Cancers 

What can happen if bleeding gums stay untreated? 

If gingivitis is not treated, the infection of the gums can spread to the bone surrounding the teeth. This is called periodontitis and is more difficult to treat. Untreated periodontitis leads to bone loss around the teeth, resulting in teeth getting mobile or loose which in turn leads to the early loss of healthy teeth, according to Dr Welgemoed.  

Why smokers are at risk of periodontal disease 

“Patients who smoke don`t usually experience bleeding gums because of the constriction of the blood vessels of the gums due to the heat,” explains Kearney, who is also an associate lecturer at Wits University. However, that doesn’t mean smokers have dodged the bullet of gum disease.  

On the contrary, smokers are at a very high risk of developing periodontal disease, according to Kearney. Without experiencing the symptom of bleeding gums, smokers need to regularly check the state of their teeth and gums to make sure they don’t have gingivitis.    

How to treat bleeding gums  

Prevention of gingivitis comes down to maintaining a basic, daily oral care routine of brushing twice a day, flossing once a day and rinsing with mouthwash. Adding an antiseptic mouthwash like Listerine to your routine twice daily can further reduce your risk of gum disease.  

It’s also important to consult your dentist or oral hygienist when you notice any difference in the appearance of your gums. “Your oral hygienist can determine your plaque and bleeding index and help you to reduce the levels for optimal oral health,” says Dr Welgemoed. 

“Whereas the general recommendation is for you to visit your dental professional every 6 months, it’s advisable that smokers and patients with periodontal disease make an appointment every 3 to 4 months,” Kearney advices.  

Angelique Kearney and Dr Janel Welgemoed are both members of the Listerine Dental Academy.  



This post is sponsored by Listerine, produced by Brandstudio24 for Health24.

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