What Are the Common Causes of Red Saliva?

J. Beam

The salivary glands produce both stimulated and unstimulated salivary flow. Saliva is necessary for maintaining oral health and also aids in the early stages of the digestion process by helping moisten food for mastication and swallowing. Abnormal saliva is usually related to the flow or consistency of saliva rather than the color. However, if red saliva is present, the most likely cause is bleeding of the gums.

Aggressively flossing the teeth may cause red saliva.
Aggressively flossing the teeth may cause red saliva.

Gums that are inflamed due to gingivitis tend to bleed even in response to mild or light brushing. Vigorous brushing and flossing may increase bleeding. When blood from the gums mixes with saliva, saliva will appear red. It is also possible that gums may become tender and bleed during pregnancy, which can also result in red saliva immediately after brushing or flossing. Red, swollen or tender gums should be evaluated by a dentist who will recommend preventative measures and treatment.

Normal saliva is clear, and can occasionally appear filmy or milky.
Normal saliva is clear, and can occasionally appear filmy or milky.

Another possible cause may be food-related. Certain red dyes, especially those found in sugary foods like candy, frosting and sweetened drinks, can coat the teeth, gums and tongue and mix with saliva, which creates the appearance of red saliva. Though this cause should be obvious and is nothing to worry about, some red dyes can stain teeth and should be brushed off as soon as convenient. A proper brushing after consuming red dyes should eliminate the appearance of red saliva.

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Consuming red candy may cause the saliva to temporarily appear red.
Consuming red candy may cause the saliva to temporarily appear red.

Red saliva should not be confused with red sputum, which is mucus produced in the airways. Red sputum is an indicator of internal bleeding, which may be caused by irritation of tissue in the lungs or airways. Red sputum can signal a variety of medical conditions or diseases, some of which can be serious. This symptom should be evaluated by a physician.

An increase in saliva production may be noticeable during pregnancy.
An increase in saliva production may be noticeable during pregnancy.

Normal saliva is clear, though may occasionally appear filmy or milky. Any changes in the production or appearance of saliva can be considered a secondary symptom or side effect. For instance, a reduction of saliva production is commonly referred to as “dry mouth” or “cotton mouth” and is a common side effect of many different types of medications. An increase in saliva production is sometimes noticeable during pregnancy.

Swollen, tender gums may cause red saliva, and should be evaluated by a dentist.
Swollen, tender gums may cause red saliva, and should be evaluated by a dentist.

While red saliva typically has a simple explanation and is rarely cause for alarm, any concerns about the production, consistency or color of saliva should be addressed by a physician or dentist, depending on the specific problem.

One cause of red saliva may be food-related.
One cause of red saliva may be food-related.
A reduction of saliva production is commonly referred to as "dry mouth."
A reduction of saliva production is commonly referred to as "dry mouth."
Brushing one's teeth too vigorously can cause bleeding and lead to red saliva.
Brushing one's teeth too vigorously can cause bleeding and lead to red saliva.

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Discussion Comments

SteamLouis

When my brother and I were young, we used to eat red candy and attempt to scare our mom by showing our red tongues. But red tongue and red saliva caused by food coloring is always apparent because it's a very bright and unnatural red color. So my mom always knew that we had been eating more candy than we ought to.

After eating red candy, I used to check my tongue frequently to see how long it would take for it to return back to normal. It usually took many hours. I have no idea what type of flavoring was used in those candies but I bet they were unhealthy.

discographer

I have extremely sensitive gums. I'm one of those people who often experience bleeding while brushing or flossing. Sometimes, I don't even realize that it has happened until I taste blood and see red saliva a minute or two later. Thankfully, the bleeding doesn't last long.

burcinc

My sister went to the hospital yesterday after coughing red saliva. We were very worried because we thought that it was from her lungs. She has an upper respiratory infection and taking antibiotics. After examining her, the doctor said that the bleeding is from her throat which became irritated due to her chronic cough. So it was nothing to worry about. He just recommended soothing drinks and prescribed her a pain relieving mouthwash to gargle with.

But other people in the same situation should go to the doctor before passing it off as throat irritation. Because it is possible for the red saliva to be a sign of problems in the lungs, especially if there is an ongoing infection.

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