According to the American Dental Association, flossing -- along with professional cleaning and tooth brushing -- is as an integral part of dental care, and assists in the prevention of tooth and gum disease 14. But sometimes flossing can cause sore, even bleeding gums, and concern about this pain and discomfort can get in the way of optimal oral hygiene. Sore gums can be related to infrequent flossing, improper technique, gum disease or -- less commonly -- a medical condition.
Flossing removes bacteria and food particles that brushing can’t reach.The removal of plaque, a film of bacteria, prevents the buildup of a hard substance called tartar -- which causes tooth decay and gum inflammation. If you have not flossed in a while, or ever, your gums may bleed a bit when you floss, and become sore after flossing. This does not mean you should stop flossing -- it means your gums are inflamed because the lack of flossing caused bacterial buildup. If you forge ahead and continue to floss daily, after a few weeks your gums will toughen up and the soreness should go away. A professional cleaning may also be needed to remove the tartar and decrease the related gum inflammation.
Sore gums from flossing may mean you are going about the task too vigorously, and pushing the floss too far below the margin of the gums. This can irritate or traumatize the gum tissue. A less painful technique is to gently guide the floss between your teeth, contouring the floss around the side of each tooth. Once the floss is in place, gently slide the floss up and down against the tooth and slightly below the gum line. Continue until you have flossed between all teeth and contoured and moved the floss against all teeth.
You may have sore gums if you have gum disease -- whether you have a mild case of gingivitis, or if you have the more advanced periodontal disease. Flossing may temporarily aggravate your symptoms, which may also include swollen, bleeding and red gums, receding gums and loose teeth. However, removing plaque between teeth is a way to reverse early gum disease, so flossing is an important part of care.
If you have trouble flossing, your dental hygienist can recommend dental floss holders or specialized interdental cleaning devices. One product is a specialized brush that looks like a small pipe cleaner, and successfully cleans between the teeth. Dental irrigation devices, with adjustable water pressure settings, also be effective at cleaning between the teeth, and an option if you are not able to floss or have ongoing discomfort with flossing.
If you have persistent sore or bleeding gums, or painful teeth or gums, talk to your dental care team. Also, each time you visit your dental team, provide an update of your health status, medical conditions and your medications. Some women, as a result of hormones during pregnancy, menstruation or menopause, will have sore, swollen or bleeding gums. If you smoke, it’s best to stop as nicotine can also cause gum inflammation. Infrequently the cause of sore gums is a medical condition or a drug side effect, so be sure to follow up with your doctor if you have unexplained sore gums.
- American Dental Association: Press Release: Federal Government, ADA Emphasize Importance of Flossing and Interdental Cleaners
- American Dental Association: Learn More About Floss & Interdental Cleaners
- National Institute of Health: National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research
- The Journal of Clinical Dentistry: Comparison of Irrigation to Floss as an Adjunct to Tooth Brushing: Effect on Bleeding, Gingivitis, and Supragingival Plaque
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