If your gums bleed, it’s important to get it under control. Though it might be due to a simple reason, like using a toothbrush that’s too hard, there’s more to it than that sometimes. Research suggests bleeding gums may be connected to a variety of medical conditions.
“When they say the mouth is the window to the body, it’s really true,” says family dentist Mark Burhenne, DDS. What happens in your mouth may be a snapshot of your overall health.
Research suggests that periodontal disease, which may be the reason for your bleeding gums, is linked to conditions like heart disease, diabetes, stroke, and premature birth.
If you don’t treat periodontal disease, Burhenne says, not only will you slowly lose all of your teeth, but it may affect your health.
What’s the Link?
The connection between your gums and your health is inflammation.
Inflammation is a normal reaction your body has to infection or injury. So if you have gum disease, your gums may become inflamed and bleed.
As inflammation builds up in your blood, it can make other health conditions worse. Some studies suggest that people with gum disease are more likely to have heart disease or diabetes. Others show that it raises a pregnant woman’s risk of premature delivery.
Many people who have gum disease also have atherosclerosis, or plaque buildup in the arteries. Both are related to inflammation.
Experts don’t fully understand the relationship between heart disease and gum disease. “It’s not entirely clear why they occur together,” says Harmony Reynolds, MD, a cardiologist at NYU Langone Medical Center. “Researchers are not sure whether infection in the gums is actually the cause of inflammation in the artery walls.”
It’s also unclear whether treating gum disease now will cut your risk of heart attack or stroke later. But experts recommend it, no matter what.
To boost both your gum health and your heart health, try to:
- Exercise regularly
- Give up smoking
- Limit sugary foods and drinks
- Manage your blood pressure
- Stay at a healthy weight
Gum disease and diabetes are closely tied.
“It can go both ways,” says Gregory B. Dodell, MD, assistant clinical professor of endocrinology at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. If you have diabetes, you’re more likely to get gum disease. If you have gum disease, it’s harder to control your blood sugar levels and can make diabetes worse.
Brushing and flossing, rinsing every day with an antibacterial mouthwash, and regular dental cleanings — along with the other things you do to treat your diabetes — can help lower this risk.
If you’re pregnant and have gum disease, your odds of delivering your baby early may be higher.
Recent studies suggest that bacteria from gum disease may get into your bloodstream and travel to your fetus. That can bring on premature labor and raise your chance of having a baby with a low birth weight.
Some experts suggest there may be a link between periodontal disease and certain cancers, but it hasn’t been scientifically proved.
If your bleeding gums are from long-term periodontal disease, the inflammation may increase your odds of having cancer.
What You Can Do
If you treat your bleeding gums now, it can be an investment in your future.
“Diligent brushing and flossing is the best way to prevent gum disease,” says Sean Anderson, DDS, a dentist in San Ramon, CA, adding that checkups are key for addressing other health issues that may be related, like heart disease or diabetes.
“I can’t overstate the importance of seeing the dentist every 6 months for an exam,” he says. “When the dentist evaluates your gums, it’s an opportunity to catch these serious conditions early.”