By Steven Lin, DDS | Medically reviewed by a board-certified physician | Updated March 10, 2019

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If you’re worried you might have gum disease, there’s good reason for that. Gum disease affects nearly half of the U.S. adult population. That’s just under 65 million people! It’s one of the most common reasons people see the dentist.

So, are you at risk?

Gum disease (known as periodontal disease) has serious consequences for your dental health. It’s a chronic condition that can proceed quickly in different people. In the worst cases, it results in teeth that are infected and loose and need to be removed.

We know that bleeding gums is closely connected to how we brush and floss. And most people that I see in the dental practice don’t brush and floss enough. But removing plaque is one part of the story. Gum disease is a sign of many other problems throughout the body. If you’re suspicious you have gum disease, then these five signs may tell you it’s time to see the dentist.

1) Bleeding Gums

Gums should not bleed when you brush and floss. As a general rule, if you aren’t a routine flosser, bacteria buildup below the gums may cause your gums to bleed each time you brush. This can also spread and cause bleeding when you brush your gums. If the problem persists, the bleeding usually worsens.

Gum swelling, red gums, or sore gums may also accompany bleeding. Tooth sensitivity may occur as well and may be due to gum recession from the infected, bleeding gums. It’s common to ask if you should stop flossing when your gums are bleeding. The problem is that if you don’t floss, the plaque that causes gingivitis will destroy the fibers that attach your gum tissue to your teeth. This plaque has bacteria that cause the inflammation in your gums.

With gums that bleed, there is much more to consider than just the pain or discomfort associated with the bleeding itself. Even though that is enough for most people to be concerned with, there are more problems that can take place after bleeding has begun if it is related to gum disease.

When your blood is delivering immune cells to exit your tissue, it makes sense that this may make way for other things to enter the bloodstream. If this is the case, harmful bacteria that are formed in the mouth can gain access to your bloodstream and cause a number of problems.

These bacteria bond to platelets in the blood and cause clots, which can lead to heart attack or stroke. If this happens, then a whole host of potential health effects can occur. Gum disease has some serious conditions associated with it. There are strong links with heart attack and stroke. When you see bleeding gums it’s time to get your dental checkup.

Your dentist will perform an exam that is designed to measure the severity of your bleeding gums. There are some general stages of bleeding gums that you can be aware of:

· Bleeding after or during brushing: This is when you will spot red or dark spots on your brush or floss. Your goal here is to disturb plaque, so it shows you’re doing the right thing.

· Gums begin to bleed more frequently: Instead of bleeding just on brushing, you’re now finding blood when you eat or without any stimulation at all.

· Bleeding happens on its own, not just when brushing: Sometimes, gums will bleed with no stimulus at all. This is a sign that inflammation is progressing to more serious stages.

· Gums begin to darken from light pink to a deeper red: This shows that more immune-regulated cells are located in the vessels. Gingivitis progresses as the immune response worsens. It signals processes that eat away at the gum tissue. Light, red blood is a sign there is oxygen present. Darker gums show lack of oxygen which is related to types of bacteria that thrive in an oxygen-free environment.

2) Gum Recession or Gum ‘Pocketing’

Do your teeth look like they are getting longer? Teeth that appear "long" may be due to fact that the gums that surround them are receding away. Gum recession is a sign that gum disease is progressing.

When this happens, the depth of the collar of gum tissue around your teeth increases. In later stage gum disease, these pockets become too deep. The problem is that it then becomes difficult to remove the food and debris by brushing and flossing. This causes the pockets to become progressively deeper and the gum disease to worsen.

Unfortunately, to most, gum recession is considered to be a normal part of aging. You may have heard the expression "long in the tooth" to describe getting older. This refers to how the gum line tends to recede and expose more of the surface of our teeth. But there really is nothing "normal" about gum recession, and for most of us, it can actually be prevented. So, unless you’re inclined to keep things as they are, and embrace gum recession as the well-paid price of wisdom, we can help.

Gum recession and pockets are not the same:

· Gum recession is the loss of gum tissue from around the tooth, exposing the root. Measurements are taken along the outer surface of the tooth to gauge how much gum has recessed or migrated over time. Measurements vary per person in t