By: Dr. Cheah Chia Wei
Do you know that the blood you see on your gums, either during or after brushing your teeth, is not isolated to your oral cavity but originates from your body as a whole?
Gum bleeding serves as the initial warning sign of gum-related issues. These issues can generally be categorized into two fundamental types: gingivitis, which primarily impacts the gum tissue itself, and periodontitis, a more severe condition that not only affects the gums but also causes damage to the underlying bone supporting your teeth.
In the majority of individuals, when oral hygiene practices do not effectively remove plaque and maintain optimal gum health, an imbalance arises between the beneficial and harmful bacteria inhabiting our mouths, with a particular focus on the gum area. The detrimental bacteria thrive in this environment, triggering an immune response from our body. This response is manifested as inflammation, which is visible as the redness and bleeding of the gums.
Findings from the Malaysia National Oral Health Survey have revealed that a striking 90 percent of the population has experienced various degrees of gum bleeding issues. Surprisingly, only a small fraction of individuals takes this early warning sign seriously. Over time, unaddressed gum bleeding can escalate into severe periodontitis, a stage where teeth may become unstable and, in some cases, even dislodge from their sockets.
You might be wondering, what’s the significance of losing teeth? After all, you can opt for dentures or dental implants to replace the teeth that have been lost, can’t you?
What you may not be aware of is that losing teeth marks not the end of the story but the start of a more severe health concern. A recent study conducted by the University of Birmingham, United Kingdom, has shed light on the persistent and heightened immune response individuals experience in the face of chronic bacterial challenges, even after tooth loss.
This prolonged hyperresponsive state of the immune system leads to dysregulation and ongoing consequences. Consequently, individuals with severe periodontitis face an elevated risk of developing various general health issues, including but not limited to diabetes, heart problems, Alzheimer’s, and even cancer. In a retrospective study examining the dental records of patients at the Faculty of Dentistry, Universiti Malaya, undergraduate students made the striking observation that individuals with severe periodontitis often presented with conditions such as diabetes, hypertension, hypercholesterolemia, or a combination of these health concerns.
So, what should you do now?
Pay attention to the signals your body is telling you. It is not okay to have gum bleeding every now and then. Make that visit to the dentist, so they will examine you and provide the necessary treatment to control your gum bleeding problem. If it does not resolve after a month, ask for a referral to the gum specialist, a periodontist.
A final note to remember, early state gum inflammation is reversible, through professional treatment and customized advice for homecare. Once the disease has destroyed bone surrounding the teeth, it is no longer reversible but can still be controlled from progressing further. However, this requires regular reviews with the dentist or specialist every few months, a lifelong monitoring for both the gum conditions and general health.
So, get treatment as early as possible, to prevent the progression of the disease into a severe stage. Remember that it is never okay to have bleeding gums!
The author is a Consultant Periodontist and Senior Lecturer at the Department of Restorative Dentisty, Faculty of Dentistry, Universiti Malaya. You may reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org