Bleeding gums often arise after vigorous brushing of the teeth. This is sometimes mistaken for a normal reaction but can be an indicator of gum disease. Chronic bleeding of the gums may signify more serious underlying conditions such as anemia or leukemia.
The most common cause of bleeding gums, however, is incomplete removal of plaque at the gum line. This leads to gingivitis, or inflammation of the gums. If plaque is not regularly removed from the teeth, it will harden and form tartar. Tartar increases bleeding and may cause periodontitis, an advanced form of gum disease in which the gums separate from the teeth.
Another frequent cause of gum bleeding is injury or trauma. Improper flossing or brushing, tooth picking and ill fitting dentures can all cause injury to the gums. Burns caused by hot foods, blows to the face, or insertion of foreign objects may also contribute to bleeding.
Nutritional deficiencies may result in bleeding gums in rare cases. Vitamin C deficiency, also known as scurvy, can lead to bleeding and inflammation. Niacin deficiency, or pellagra, causes thrush, infection and gum bleeding. These deficiencies can be treated with supplements and improved diet.
The use of medications such as calcium channel blockers can cause an overgrowth of gum tissue. This makes plaque removal more difficult and increases the risk of gingivitis. Aspirin and other blood thinning medicines prevent blood clotting by blocking enzymes that heal torn blood vessels. This often causes bleeding gums in patients of aspirin, warfarin, or heparin therapy.
Viral and fungal infections are another source of bleeding gums. Acute herpetic gingivostomatitis is a viral infection caused by the herpes simplex virus. It results in painful, bleeding and red gums. Thrush is a fungal infection caused by overgrowth of bacteria in the mouth. These bacteria form a white film in the mouth that irritates the gums and results in bleeding.
Hormonal changes experienced during pregnancy can worsen mild gingivitis, causing the gums to bleed. Menopausal women are also prone to bleeding gums. Declining estrogen levels cause shrinking and drying of the gums. As the gums shrink, they separate more easily from the teeth, giving bacteria and tartar a place to collect.
Bleeding gums can often be prevented by proper dental hygiene, regular visits to the dentist and a balanced diet. If the bleeding is severe or chronic, or accompanied by other unexplained symptoms, a health care provider should be consulted immediately.