Bleeding Gums

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Introduction

What are bleeding gums?

Bleeding from the gums is a common symptom of gum disease. Bleeding gums are most commonly caused by inadequate plaque removal from the teeth at the gum line, resulting in inflammation of the gums (gingivitis). However, persistent gum bleeding may also be associated with serious medical conditions, such as leukemia and coagulation and platelet disorders. In these conditions, easy bleeding or bruising is usually also noted elsewhere in the body.

Inflammation of the gum line may lead to a more advanced form of gum and jawbone disease known as periodontitis. Other common causes of bleeding gums include vitamin deficiencies and certain medications. Several classes of medications, especially blood thinners, have bleeding gums as a side effect.

Bleeding gums can be a sign of a serious condition.If you have bleeding gums that are persistent or cause you concern, or if you experience bleeding gums along with other serious symptoms, including severe bleeding, difficulty breathing or swallowing, or high fever (higher than 101 degrees Fahrenheit), seek prompt medical care.

Symptoms

What other symptoms might occur with bleeding gums?

Bleeding gums may accompany other symptoms, which vary depending on the underlying disease, disorder or condition.

Gum symptoms that may occur along with bleeding gums

Bleeding gums may accompany other symptoms affecting the gum area including:

  • Bright red or red-purple appearance to gums
  • Gum tenderness
  • Loose or missing teeth
  • Poorly fitting dentures or dental appliances
  • Receding gums

Other symptoms that may occur along with bleeding gums

Bleeding gums may accompany symptoms related to other body systems including:

  • Dark, tarry stool (melena)
  • Easy bruising
  • Loss of appetite and weight loss
  • Nosebleeds or skin bleeding
  • Pale skin or pallor
  • Swollen glands (lymphadenopathy) in the neck, under arms, and groin

Symptoms that might indicate a serious condition

In some cases, bleeding gums may occur with other symptoms that might indicate a serious condition that should be evaluated immediately in an emergency setting. Seek immediate medical care (call 911) if you, or someone you are with, have bleeding gums along with other serious symptoms including:

  • Bleeding elsewhere in the body
  • High fever (higher than 101 degrees Fahrenheit)
  • Loss of teeth

Causes

What causes bleeding gums?

Bleeding gums most commonly result from inadequate plaque removal from the teeth at the gum line, resulting in a condition called gingivitis, or inflamed gums. Infection of the gum line is a common cause of bleeding gums. If plaque is not removed it will harden into what is called tartar, resulting in increased bleeding and potentially a more advanced form of gum and jawbone disease known as periodontitis.

Conditions that can cause bleeding gums include certain vitamin deficiencies, including vitamin K deficiency and vitamin C deficiency, which causes scurvy. Other bleeding disorders, such as hemophilia, leukemia, and idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura, can cause bleeding gums. The use of medications, such as blood thinners and chemotherapy agents, can also cause bleeding gums as a side effect.

Gum disease causes of bleeding gums

Bleeding gums may be caused by gum disease including:

  • Gingivitis (infection of the gums)
  • Periodontitis (infection of the gum line involving the teeth and bones)
  • Poorly fitting dentures or dental appliances

Medication causes of bleeding gums

Bleeding gums can also be caused by medications including:

  • Antiplatelet drugs, such as aspirin and clopidogrel (Plavix)
  • Chemotherapy drugs
  • Immunosuppressant drugs

Other causes of bleeding gums

Bleeding gums can also be caused by other conditions including:

  • Brushing teeth too vigorously
  • Idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura (ITP), excessive bruising due to an insufficient number of platelets in the blood
  • Scurvy (Vitamin C deficiency)
  • Vitamin K deficiency

Serious or life-threatening causes of bleeding gums

In some cases, bleeding gums may be a symptom of a serious or life-threatening condition that should be evaluated immediately in an emergency setting. These include:

  • Adverse medication effect
  • Bleeding or platelet disorder
  • Leukemia
  • Toxic exposure or poisoning

Questions for diagnosing the cause of bleeding gums

To diagnose your condition, your doctor or licensed health care practitioner will ask you several questions related to your bleeding gums including:

  • Is the bleeding from your gums a large amount?
  • When did the gum bleeding start?
  • How often do your gums bleed?
  • How vigorously do you brush?
  • What medications do you take?

What are the potential complications of bleeding gums?

Because bleeding gums can be due to serious diseases, failure to seek treatment can result in serious complications and permanent damage. Once the underlying cause is diagnosed, it is important for you to follow the treatment plan that you and your health care professional design specifically for you to reduce the risk of potential complications including:

  • Severe bleeding
  • Tooth loss
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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2018 Dec 27
  1. Gingivitis. PubMed Health, a service of the NLM from the NIH. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0002051/.
  2. Bleeding gums. Medline Plus, a service of the National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/003062.htm.
  3. Mealey B, Genco R, Cohen W (Eds). Periodontics Medicine, Surgery, and Implants. St. Louis: Elsevier Mosby, 2004.
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