Even if you’re a die-hard daily flosser (which, let’s be honest, most of us aren’t even close to being), chances are, you see an occasional drop or two of blood post string-session. No big deal, right? Not so fast.
“Bleeding gums are never normal, not even when you have your teeth professionally cleaned,” says Lisa Marie Samaha, DDS, founder and director of the Perio Arts Institute, in Newport News, VA. “Imagine your scalp bleeding when you brush your hair.” In other words, if your gums are bleeding when you floss or brush your teeth, you have periodontal disease, commonly known as gum disease.
What exactly is gum disease? Simply put, it’s a contagious bacterial infection that can wreak havoc on your health. In your mouth, it can destroy your gums, erode your jawbone, and lead to tooth loss (gum disease is actually the number one reason teeth fall out).
The picture’s not any better when it comes to the rest of the body. Here’s what happens: “There are two fronts to bleeding gums,” says Mark Weiser, DDS, a dentist practicing in Santa Barbara, Calif. “The plaque—which is a biofilm of bacteria and its waste products—first create the irritation to the gum tissue. Then there’s the body’s reaction to that wounding, the inflammatory response.” Put those two factors together and you’ve got inflamed, bleeding gums. The longer you have inflammation, the more at risk you are for all kinds of systemic illnesses, everything from allergies to cancer.
And gum disease is common. Really common. According to the American Academy of Periodontology, up to 80% of the adult population has some level of periodontal disease, while only about 10% are aware of it, as telltale signs of the disease—bleeding gums, for one—don’t typically show up until the middle-to-late stages.