This is something that I hear all the time from worried patients. We have all been in that situation where we have finished brushing our teeth, so we spit into the basin, only to be rewarded for our efforts with a nice pinky hue to our toothpaste. Surely if our gums are bleeding from this behaviour I should be doing it less, right?
In actual fact, when you see bleeding on brushing or flossing, it actually indicates that we need to be working harder to keep our teeth clean. When bacteria-filled plaque accumulates on our teeth, it has a tendency to sit around the gum margins. These gum margins are most commonly the areas that people forget, or miss when brushing. When plaque sits in these areas, the body’s natural defence mechanism kicks in and tries to prevent the bacteria from invading the body, and as a result we get inflammation of the gums. This is called gingivitis. Inflammation causes an increased blood flow to the area which means that the gums are much more prone to bleeding, and are often tender when touched.
What are the risks of gingivitis?
Although gingivitis is very common (around 75% of the population have it), if it is uncontrolled it may make you more susceptible to gum disease – otherwise known as periodontal disease. Periodontal disease is irreversible and it reduces the bony support we have around our teeth, which means that over time our teeth can become wobbly and fall out!
Having said that, having gingivitis does NOT mean you will get periodontal disease, but it is important to know that gingivitis needs to be present for periodontal disease to occur.
Major factors that may increase your susceptibility to periodontal disease also include:
- A family history of gum disease
What does this mean for me?
The good news is we are fully in control of our gingivitis, as long as we keep our teeth and gums nice and clean. Any damage that is caused by the gingivitis is 100% reversible and we can achieve the full health of our gums if we remove all of the irritating plaque. Eventually, with good cleaning, you will notice a decrease in soreness and bleeding of the gums – a sure sign that you have been doing a great job! Studies have shown that even dental professionals may not be able to sufficiently clean their teeth in only one go, and therefore, brushing two times a day is recommended to ensure we remove all of that nasty plaque.
Tip: Use a soft toothbrush and angle it towards your gums at a 45 degree angle, using very gentle circular motions. It should take you about 2 minutes to thoroughly clean your entire mouth using this technique.
Unfortunately, brushing alone doesn’t quite get rid of all of the bacteria. We have a small space between the tooth and the gum where bacteria are able to hide and live uninterrupted, unless we get rid of them using floss. Flossing is tricky at first, but once you get the hang of it, it will take you less than a minute to complete your whole mouth! Here are some tips on how to best use your floss:
- Take about a 30 cm piece of floss
- Hold it with both hands and wrap it around your middle finger on each hand, leaving about a 5cm piece of floss in the centre
- Hold this 5cm area with your index finger and thumb on either side, to allow good control
- Ease the floss in a see-saw motion between your teeth, leaning the floss onto the surface of one tooth. You will feel (and see) the floss slip down between the gum and the tooth painlessly.
- Move the floss up and down between the gum and the tooth a couple of times to remove the plaque.
- Repeat for all other tooth surfaces – don’t forget to do both the top and the bottom teeth!
Tip: Get your children started early on this habit too! You can help them floss every night until they are old enough to manage it themselves.
So, pick up those toothbrushes and get brushing! And if you see blood, don’t be discouraged! Just keep brushing