No daily oral hygiene routine is complete without flossing. The average person needs to floss once a day, every day. The problem? Many people avoid the task because they find it unpleasant, and bleeding gums is one of the most common reasons.
Why does flossing cause bleeding? And is there anything you can do about it? We have your answers right here! Keep reading to learn more.
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Flossing: The Basics
Flossing is a type of interdental cleaning — a method of cleaning the area between the teeth. A lot of us don’t like it, and there are plenty of reasons for this: it requires time and skill, many people find it painful or annoying, and it can also make your gums bleed. Considering those are just a few of the things that make people dislike flossing, it’s not surprising that just 31% of Americans floss every day.
Whether you love it, hate it, or tolerate it, flossing is a must. You might love your powerful electric toothbrush with interchangeable heads, but those bristles still won’t get deep between your teeth or under your gum line. Floss goes where brushes and mouthwash can’t, removing plaque before it calcifies into tartar — the substance that causes most cavities and gum disease.
How Often You Should Floss
Since the goal is to remove plaque before it becomes tartar (which you can’t remove at home), you need to do it often enough that calcification can’t occur between flossing sessions. Plaque can become tartar in as little as 24 hours, which is why the American Dental Association recommends flossing at least once per day.
But this one-and-done approach isn’t the perfect solution for everyone. Flossing once a day is a healthy frequency for the average person, but not everyone falls in line with the norm. Depending on your oral health, you might need to floss twice a day, or even after every meal. Consult your dentist to determine the right frequency for you.
If you have visible or bothersome pieces of food stuck in your teeth, don’t be afraid to floss to remove it, even if that puts you over the “quota” for the day. But otherwise, flossing once a day is fine, unless your dentist has recommended something different.
Why Do My Gums Bleed When I Floss?
It’s something many of us experience: we floss, we bleed. Most people just accept this as par for the course, spitting it out, rinsing, and moving on. But is this normal? And can you prevent it?
The most common cause of bleeding gums is that you aren’t flossing enough. The more you floss, the healthier and heartier your gums will be, making them better able to withstand pressure from floss, crunchy foods, toothbrush bristles, and more. But there are other reasons your gums might bleed when you floss, some of which are more benign than others.
Flossing and Brushing Incorrectly
When you apply too much pressure, use brushes with stiff bristles, or don’t replace your dental hygiene tools often enough, you can end up damaging your gums. These injuries can cause bleeding, even if they’re small.
If you think you might be brushing too hard, look into getting an electric toothbrush with pressure sensors. Also, don’t be afraid to ask your dentist about proper brushing and flossing techniques.
Certain hormones can increase blood flow, causing gum inflammation. Women are more vulnerable to this inflammation because progesterone is one of the biggest culprits, and women go through larger hormone fluctuations in their lives. Some situations where hormonal changes can cause bleeding gums are:
- Hormonal birth control use
If you think hormones might be causing your bleeding gums, speak with your dentist. In some cases, such as pregnancy, you are more likely to develop gum disease and might need to take extra steps to protect yourself.
Gum disease is the second most common cause of bleeding when flossing, right after not flossing enough. In fact, the two are often linked, because infrequent flossing contributes to the development of gum disease.
Gingivitis is the most common (and minor) form of periodontal disease, and it’s typically the cause when gums first start bleeding. Over time, it can worsen, eventually becoming periodontitis, which can lead to tooth and jawbone loss, plus contribute to general health issues like diabetes and heart disease.
Various Medical Conditions and Medications
Vitamin C and K deficiencies can affect the body’s ability to heal itself and inhibit blood clotting. Additionally, general health issues that stem from gum disease can also worsen gum disease, causing more bleeding and creating a cycle that’s difficult to break.
Medications that thin the blood — like NSAIDs, blood thinners, and certain supplements — can also increase the chances of bleeding gums.
All tobacco products increase the risk of developing gum disease, which can lead to bleeding gums. However, because smoking also affects the blood vessels, this bleeding might be sporadic, even with advanced periodontal disease.
Bacteria and Tartar Build-Up
When bacteria and tartar accumulate along the gum line, they cause irritation, leading to swelling, tenderness, and bleeding. While you can manage bacteria alone at home, you need a dental professional to remove tartar.
How to Prevent Bleeding Gums
Most of us will experience bleeding gums at some point in our lives. The good news is that, in most cases, you can take steps to keep your gums healthy and strong, preventing them from bleeding.
The most important thing you can do is brush twice a day and floss once a day, using the right techniques. But that’s not all. Below are some other measures you can take to prevent bleeding gums, or at least lessen its frequency.
Stop Using Tobacco Products
Whether you smoke or chew, tobacco products are bad for your health — especially your oral health. Eliminating them is a great way to reduce or eliminate bleeding gums while also improving your overall health.
Adjust Your Diet
Sugar is sticky, which helps plaque stay in place long enough to calcify into tartar. Try to reduce your consumption of sugar and simple carbohydrates, which break down into sugars. You should also increase your consumption of crunchy foods and veggies, since they help disturb plaque between brushings and can also toughen up the gums.
It’s also a good idea to increase the amount of vitamins C and K in your diet by eating citrus fruits and leafy greens.
Get Better Oral Care Tools
You might think that if your gums bleed when you floss, it’s the floss that’s the problem. But if you are brushing with the wrong toothbrush, you might be gradually damaging your gums. Look for a toothbrush with extra soft bristles and be sure to replace it every 3–4 months, or as soon as you notice signs of wear like frayed or bent bristles.
Use Gauze and a Cold Compress
This one only works in the moment to stop bleeding, but it can be helpful if you floss too hard and cut your gums. Press clean, damp gauze against the injured area, keeping it in place until the bleeding stops. Then, place a cold compress against the gums to reduce inflammation and decrease the risk of bleeding the next time you brush or floss.
Add a Rinse to Your Routine
Including a rinse in your daily oral care routine can help prevent or reduce bleeding. Here are a few options.
- Hydrogen Peroxide: Mix one part 3% hydrogen peroxide with two parts water and swish a small amount for 30 seconds or less. This can help enhance gum health while removing plaque.
- Salt Water: Add about half a teaspoon of salt to six ounces of warm water, then swish it for 30 seconds or less before spitting it out. This encourages healing.
- Mouthwash: Look for options that kill bacteria and help to remove plaque. Both features can reduce bleeding gums.
- Turmeric: Much like salt water, you can create a rinse by adding turmeric to some warm water. Since it has anti-inflammatory properties, it can stop bleeding gums.
See Your Dentist Every Six Months
Even the best brushing and flossing will leave some plaque behind, which might turn into tartar. Seeing your dentist twice a year to get this removed will improve your gum and overall oral health. During these appointments, they can catch other issues that cause bleeding gums and offer simple remedies.
Bleeding gums is something that everyone has to deal with at some point. There can be many reasons for it, and while some are more benign than others, there is never a good reason to experience bleeding when flossing.
If you are noticing blood when you floss, work to determine the underlying cause and address it with your dentist.
Frequently Asked Questions
Why is flossing so important?
While toothbrushes can do more than ever, thanks to advancements in electric models, they still cannot get deep into the crevices between the teeth or underneath the gums. Floss goes where bristles can’t, keeping those tough-to-reach places free of plaque.
What is the best floss alternative?
It depends on your teeth and preferences. We recommend experimenting, if you can. Interdental brushes are the most affordable alternatives, so start there. If you don’t like those, try a water or air flosser.
Are toothpicks safe to use?
If you use them gently and occasionally to remove a bit of food stuck in your teeth, they’re safe. However, they are not an alternative to floss. They do not effectively clean around the edges of the teeth or along the gum line, and since they have hard, sharp ends, you’ll end up causing damage if you use them often.
Should I brush, floss, or use mouthwash first?
You can choose the order you prefer, but most people floss, then brush, then swish. If you go with this order, flossing will knock debris loose, brushing will remove it, and mouthwash will kill any bacteria left behind.
What age should children start flossing?
It’s more about dexterity than age. Parents should handle the flossing until children have advanced enough fine motor skills that they won’t harm their gums.
What is the best time of day to floss?
You should choose the most convenient time for you. This increases the likelihood that you will remember and decreases the chances that you’ll skip it because of a time crunch.
Should I see my dentist if flossing hurts?
Yes. It’s probably not a serious issue, but it could be. Get checked to rule out bigger issues. If there is nothing dangerous, your dentist can still help by teaching you better techniques.
Why does my floss always break while flossing?
Usually, it’s because you are flossing too hard or aren’t switching to a new section of floss with each tooth, wearing it down. However, chipped teeth and rough edges on restorations can catch floss and break it. If you have old restorations, it might also indicate that the dental cement is weakening and the crowns or fillings are loose.
Can I damage my teeth and gums by flossing?
Yes. If you use the wrong tools (like toothpicks) or too much force, you can damage your teeth and gums.