As a dental professional I occasionally have a patient that gets my spider sense tingling. From The moment I started cleaning her teeth I knew I was going to be running late, and quite possibly miss my daughter’s afternoon piano recital. Talk about bleeding gums . My first though was that she’s just spent the last 3 days at a “Discover Your Inner Vampire” seminar, but this was a professional, yoga fit woman, that smelled of jasmine; she just didn’t strike me as the blood sucking type. I ask her if she had noticed her gums bleeding before. She proceeded to tell me that her gums had always bleed “a little”, but had started to get worse, so now she wasn’t brushing as much. Upon further inspection it became evident she had a classic case of gingivitis that had gone into the acute phase.
If You Have Experienced Bleeding Gums It doesn’t mean you’ve traumatized yourself. It means you’ve discovered where bacteria is growing.
This scenario is relatively common, but what I found disconcerting was her reaction to the bleeding. It seems that this patient, and a large majority of people make the false assumption that if their gums bleed, brushing the teeth will only make it worse and is somehow the cause. Nothing could be further from the truth. Bleeding gums are rarely a result of toothbrush trauma. Nine times out of ten, bleeding gums are the body’s own immune system reacting to the presence of bacterial growth. Think about what happens when you get a splinter in your finger. If you don’t remove the splinter, what happens? Your finger swells up, turns red, hurts, might bleed, and may even start leaking pus. Nothing will change until you pull the splinter out. These symptoms are caused by the immune system reacting to a bacterial presence. Relative to the gums, bacteria is the splinter.
Around every tooth, just below the gum line is a small pocket called the gingival sulcus. This is the perfect place for bacterial growth to occur. It’s warm, moist and difficult to clean out. Coincidentally there’s more bacterial activity in this place than the bathroom floor of your favorite singles bar. It’s also the reason you should be brushing 45 degrees into the gum line. The true objective of tooth brushing is to clean out this pocket. The main stream media, has convinced us that a healthy mouth means sexy white teeth arranged in a perfectly symmetrical arch. Well what good are sexy white teeth arranged in a perfectly symmetrical arch, if the foundation that holds them is as weak and fragile as my grandmother’s triceps. The gums should be as tough as the skin on your arm. If you dragged a toothbrush across your forearm, and it started to bleed, I bet you’d be reasonably concerned. Somehow, we don’t make this connection when it comes to our gums. We wrongly assume that if the gums bleed we have done something traumatic to cause it. In reality, it’s what we haven’t done that causes it.
To be absolutely clear, all that bacteria does is grow, multiply and release toxins. Your body hates this with a passion, so does the only thing it can; which is increase the blood flow to the affected area. The increased blood flow carries with it white blood cells to fight infection and kill bacteria. However, the gums are not a sealed system like the rest of your body, and through the process of eating and drinking are constantly resupplied with nutrients for bacterial growth. Furthermore, if our brushing technique is that of a third grader, then we are only removing a portion of the bacteria thereby allowing the body’s inflammatory response to continue. The teeth and gums are the only places where the body needs help to remove bacteria. Have you ever seen someone who has a red halo around all their front teeth? Probably not because you’re not a dental dork like me, but look for it, you’ll be surprised how many people have it. It’s because they lack at toothbrushing, or more directly don’t know how to do it right. That red halo is the body screaming for help. If you notice bleeding while brushing or dental floss that smells like road kill; then there’s too much bacteria growing in your mouth.
Therefore, if you were recently diagnosed with gingivitis, notice your gums bleeding, or think you may have gingivitis, perform the following in this order.
1. Learn the Bass method of tooth brushing. This ensures that you will be brushing 45 degrees into the gum line where all those nasty little critters camp out and keep the fires of inflammation stoked ( bleeding gums ). If you need help with this tooth brushing method go to Amazon and purchase the MD Brush. It’s designed for the Bass method and breaks the cycle of poor tooth brushing. However, be prepared; if you’ve spent your entire life brushing on autopilot without any consideration to what you were physically doing, changing to the Bass method will be like driving on the left side of the road in Scotland for the very 1st time. Be patient, your teeth are worth it. Usually 2-3 days with the MD Brush is average to break the cycle and retrain the arm.
2. Floss – Yes, I know it sucks, and nobody does it but we’re preventing bleeding gums, right? Personally, and professionally, I’m OK if you floss 3 times a week, BUT there is a right way and a wrong way to do it. Simply popping the floss in between the teeth won’t cut the mustard or should I say goop. You must scrape the teeth, which means pulling or pushing against the teeth when the floss goes up and down in between the teeth. Oh, and those little wishbone thingies with the floss in-between; not a fan. I’ve still seen cases of gingivitis with them. If you’re going to take the time to floss, do it the right, and use the stuff that wraps around your digits. I like the GLIDE brand.
3. Lastly, right before you go to bed, (after you’ve brushed, and flossed) take a big ole slug of Listerine mouthwash, preferable the one with the alcohol; why, because it’s just more fun, and kills more bacteria. Swish around for 30 seconds and then brush your teeth…. again. Notice, I didn’t say spit the Listerine out. It will be like brushing your teeth with a mouthful of scotch, although not nearly as smooth or expensive depending on your pallet. After the requisite 30 seconds, you may spit the Listerine out; but be advised, your first impulse will be to rinse away that toxic scotch burning sensation; you don’t want to do that. Provided you don’t rinse, the residual Scotch/Listerine will continue to kill bacteria for several hours providing a lasting effect that prevents the growth of new bacteria, YEAH. Brushing with Listerine is different from rinsing, because it forces the gums to open up, allowing greater penetration below the gum line.
I only recommend using Listerine once a day. Like any alcohol, moderation is key.
If you think you have periodontal disease, notice pus, or have teeth that are loose; make an appointment with your dentist today. Periodontal disease is serious, and can put you at higher risk for heart disease and a few other nasties not to mention a full plate denture.
Written By Mike Davidson – Maverick Dental Hygienist and CEO