If you see blood when you brush or floss your teeth, it generally indicates a problem with your oral health. You may think you are brushing too hard, but this is not usually why gums bleed. The usual culprit is dental plaque.
Plaque is the sticky, whitish film of bacteria that forms on your teeth every day. If you brush regularly, you probably remove most of it — but some may remain behind and accumulate where your teeth meet your gums, particularly between your teeth. As the bacteria build up, along with by-products of their metabolism (the chemical reactions that maintain their lives), they cause inflammation, called gingivitis, in the adjacent gums.
Bleeding gums are an early symptom of gingivitis. Continuing contact with plaque at the gum line can cause your gum tissue to separate from nearby teeth, creating pockets in which the inflammation becomes even worse. The process leads to periodontal disease (“peri” – meaning around, “odont” – tooth). The increasing infection can eat away the bone that anchors the teeth, leading to possible tooth loss. Periodontal disease is not an uncommon problem. About 90% of the population has bleeding gums at some time or another, and approximately 10% go on to develop periodontal disease.
When you lose bone around your teeth, the gums separate from the tooth and “pockets” form between your teeth and gums. The inflammation and infection may continue within the pockets even if your gums have stopped bleeding when you brush. That's why it is important to have regular dental exams — to check up on and stop periodontal disease before it has a chance to cause serious damage.
There may also be other reasons for bleeding gums that have to do with your general state of health. Women who have elevated levels of hormones caused by birth control pills or pregnancy may experience an increased response to plaque that makes their gums bleed more easily. Increased bleeding in your gums can also be caused by some diseases or as a side effect of some medications.
The most important way to prevent bleeding gums is to learn proper brushing and flossing techniques so that you effectively remove plaque from your teeth on a daily basis. If you are not sure you are using the right techniques, make an appointment and have us demonstrate at your next dental visit.
With all the best intentions, some plaque may remain. Plaque that is allowed to stay on your teeth hardens into a substance called tartar or calculus. This must be removed periodically with a professional cleaning by me or by our hygienist.
With not too much effort, you can ensure that your teeth are clean and plaque free, and your healthy gums no longer bleed.
Did you know that studies have shown a relationship between gum disease and heart disease?
The common link is inflammation. This means that if you reduce inflammation caused by gum disease (periodontal disease), you also reduce your risk for heart attacks and strokes. The methods we stress for good dental hygiene — consistent effective brushing and flossing, regular professional cleanings by a hygienist, and dental treatment when needed — are also important for the maintenance of a healthy cardiovascular system (from cardio, meaning heart, and vascular, meaning blood vessels).
Here's how it works. Dental plaque is a film of bacteria that settles on your teeth near the gum line every day. When you brush and floss, you remove as much of this bacterial film, or biofilm, as you can. Bacteria that are not removed multiply and produce acid products that begin to dissolve the enamel of your teeth. They also irritate your gum tissues.
Your immune system tries to remove the bacteria and their byproducts through inflammation, your body's way of attacking substances that shouldn't be there (such as bacteria). However, long-term inflammation can be harmful to your own tissues as well. Inflammation in your gums, a symptom of periodontal disease, can destroy gum tissue, bone and the ligaments that hold your teeth in place.
Ongoing inflammation can also increase your risk for heart disease and stroke. Bacterial byproducts of periodontal inflammation have been shown to cause the liver to manufacture a protein called CRP (C-reactive protein) that spreads the inflammation to the arteries, where it promotes formation of blood clots.
Of course, other factors are also related to an increased incidence of cardiovascular disease. These include smoking, diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure, and physical inactivity. Family history and depression can also influence gum disease and heart disease.
Diet is another factor. You have probably heard of “good” cholesterol (HDL) and “bad” cholesterol (LDL). The bad one, low-density lipoprotein or LDL, is found in animal fats. It can cause an accumulation of fat breakdown products (also called plaque, but a different substance from dental plaque) inside your arteries. The arteries become narrow, so that they can be easily blocked, resulting in heart attacks and strokes. Studies have shown that inflammation of the lining of the blood vessels accelerates this effect.
If tests show that you have high levels of LDL, your doctor may advise you to modify your diet and take specific medication to reduce arterial plaque. You will also be advised to make lifestyle changes to reduce your risk factors. Lowering your weight, getting more exercise, and stopping smoking can have a positive effect on your heart health — and so can improving your dental hygiene to combat periodontal disease.
Contact us today to schedule an appointment to discuss your questions about the relationship between gum disease and heart disease. You can also learn more by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “The Link Between Heart & Gum Diseases.”
It is important to brush your teeth every day to remove plaque (that sticky white film, composed of bacteria, on your teeth near your gums), but it is possible to overdo it — particularly if you find that your teeth are becoming sensitive to hot and cold or to variations in pressure.
Brushing your teeth too hard or too many times per day can aggravate tooth sensitivity, which can range from a mild twinge to a severe pain. You can accomplish the goal of tooth brushing — plaque removal — by using a soft brush with a very gentle action. Repeated aggressive brushing with a hard brush is not required and can even be harmful to your teeth and gums.
To understand how teeth become sensitive, you need to know about the internal structure of your teeth. Teeth are covered by enamel, a hard mineralized coating that protects them from changes in temperature and pressure. If the enamel is worn away, it exposes the next lower layer of the tooth, the dentin. The dentin is a living tissue containing nerve fibers that connect to the nerves in the tooth's root.
Excessive tooth brushing can irritate your gums and cause them to shrink away from your teeth, particularly if you have thin gum tissues. The thickness or thinness of your gum tissues is something you inherit from your parents, so you can't change it. Hard brushing can begin to wear away the enamel covering of your teeth. Exposure to acids or sugars in the foods you eat and drink can continue the damage.
Acidic foods and drinks such as fruit juices dissolve some of the minerals in your teeth by a process called “demineralization.” Fortunately, your saliva can interact with the enamel and bring back minerals that are leaving the tooth's surface. This process is called “remineralization.” It is important to let your healthy saliva wash your teeth's surfaces for a while before brushing so that dissolved minerals get a chance to be returned to your enamel. It takes between twelve and twenty-four hours for plaque to form on your teeth, so you don't need to brush more than twice a day.
The best way to make sure you are brushing your teeth properly is to have us evaluate your brushing technique at your next dental appointment. We will be able to tell you whether you need to change the angle of your brush or the pressure you are applying for the most effective removal of plaque with the least wear on your teeth and gums. Tooth brushing serves an important purpose, but remember that you can actually have too much of a good thing.
Gum disease (gingivitis) and tooth decay are primarily caused by dental plaque. Dental plaque is a whitish, sticky film that accumulates daily along the gumline and on the surfaces of your teeth. Composed of bacteria, it is controllable through good oral hygiene habits — most importantly, effective brushing.
Controlling plaque and preventing gingivitis and tooth decay will make it more likely that you keep your teeth through your lifetime and will also improve your general health. Scientific studies have linked gum disease and diseases of the heart and circulatory system.
“I know how to brush my teeth. I've been doing it since I was a toddler,” you may be saying. But you may not be performing this daily ritual in the most effective way.
Let's take another look at tooth brushing. First, your grip: Hold the brush in your fingertips with a light pressure. Position the brush so the bristles are at a 45 degree angle to your gumline, and then brush with a gentle scrubbing motion. Donât scrub too hard, or you may damage your sensitive gum tissue.
Some electric brushes can remove plaque more quickly than a regular hand-held brush, but if you brush well any kind of brush works. A brush will last several months. Get a new one when the bristles become worn or splayed out.
Use a toothpaste that contains fluoride. When used consistently, fluoride toothpastes make your teeth more resistant to decay. Spit out the toothpaste after brushing, but don't rinse or you will wash the fluoride away.
After brushing, complete your cleaning job by using floss to clean between your teeth where the brush does not reach. Wrap it in a “C” shape around each tooth and move it vertically up and down, removing plaque from the tooth surfaces where your teeth meet. You can also use an antibacterial mouth rinse.
Thoroughly clean your teeth at least once a day, brushing and flossing. A plaque film takes 12 to 24 hours to form itself again.
To be certain you are brushing correctly, ask our office or one of our hygienists to demonstrate brushing techniques for you in your own mouth. You can also assess the quality of your brushing technique by checking with your tongue after brushing to make sure your tooth surfaces feel smooth and slick. Your gums should not bleed after brushing. Bleeding is a sign of infection. If you have a habit of consistent brushing but your gums continue to bleed, it's time for a visit to our office.
Having someone tell you that you have bad breath can be humiliating, but it can also be a sign that you need to see your dentist. Bad breath (or halitosis) can be a sign of an underlying dental or health problem, so before you run out and stock up on breath mints, make an appointment with our office. Using breath fresheners will only disguise the problem and not treat the root cause.
It's important to remember that if you have bad breath, you're not alone — it's the third most common reason people seek a dental consult. We use a systematic approach to determine the cause of your halitosis and offer a solution.
Causes: Ninety percent of mouth odors come from mouth itself — either from the food you eat or bacteria that may be present. Most unpleasant odors originate from proteins trapped in the mouth that are processed by oral bacteria. When left on the tongue, these bacteria can cause an unpleasant smell. Dry mouth, sinus problems, diet and poor oral hygiene can also cause bad breath. In rare cases, a medical condition may be the cause.
Treatment: The best solution will depend on determining the real cause of your halitosis. If bad breath emanates from the mouth, it most commonly is caused by gum disease or even tooth decay, which need to be treated to correct the problem. If halitosis is of systemic (general body) origin, a more detailed examination might be needed from a physician. But the solution may also be as simple as demonstrating how to effectively remove bacterial plaque from your teeth, or offer instruction on proper tongue cleaning. If the cause is gum disease, we may suggest a deep cleaning and possible antibiotic therapy.
Contact us today to schedule an appointment to discuss any questions you may have regarding bad breath. Read more about this topic in the Dear Doctor magazine article “Bad Breath: More Than Just Embarrassing.”