When you eat, food remnants always get stuck between your teeth. You might use a toothpick to get rid of that big piece of chicken, but the small remnants of food become a meal for the millions of bacteria we all have in our mouths. These bacteria eat the food, and then produce acid as a byproduct of their metabolism. This acid leads to bone loss and puffy, bleeding gums.

What Is Gum Disease?

Gum disease happens in stages. First, there is gingivitis (bleeding gums), and then early, moderate and severe periodontitis. First-stage gingivitis is indicative of poor oral hygiene; however, the good news is that it is reversible. But you can’t do it by brushing alone. You also have to floss in order to get the food and bacteria out from between the teeth.

When gum tissues bleed, they are bluish in color and the number of anaerobic bacteria increase. Flossing brings oxygen into the area and kills these bacteria. Flossing also scrapes off the bacteria and reintroduces oxygen into the environment, which helps to kill the germs that lead to bleeding.

If you have bleeding gums and you actively brush and floss, this gingivitis will go away. It’s similar to having a sliver under your fingernail. When the sliver is removed (in this case, plaque and food), then the area will heal.

What Is Periodontitis?

If you don’t address your bleeding gums, the acid stays under the gum for a prolonged period of time. Acid in contact with bone results in bone loss. Bone loss causes a pocket to form. This pocket contains more anaerobic bacteria, fungus and yeast and causes more bone loss and even more profuse bleeding of the gums.

To treat these conditions, first see your dentist for a thorough periodontal evaluation. Your dentist will use a periodontal probe (dental ruler) to check the bone levels for a more accurate diagnosis. Then, deep cleanings will debride the area and remove bacteria and calculus. Your dentist may also use scaling and root planing to remove the irritants that lead to continued puffy gums. In some instances, periodontal surgery is necessary to reduce these deep periodontal pockets. This surgery can be done in a standard fashion or with a periodontal laser. You may also be prescribed mouth rinses or chemotherapeutics to help decrease these pathogenic bacteria.

It’s crucial that you address your gum disease sooner than later. If you wait too long, your teeth become mobile and may need to be extracted and replaced with dental implants. If your gums don’t stop bleeding after a few weeks of thorough brushing and flushing, see your dentist for a thorough gum screening.