A dentist explains what blood on your toothbrush can mean and what you and your hygienist can do about it

There is a very good reason why manufacturers don’t make toothbrushes with blood-red bristles.

The sight of the colour red on your bristles is not a pleasant one; so what should you do if you discover real blood on your toothbrush as you clean your teeth?

If there is blood on your toothbrush it is most likely to be some form of gum disease. It is no need for immediate panic as, according to the British Dental Health Foundation (BDHF), most people at some stage in their life will suffer gum disease.

But it definitely should be addressed; the BDHF states that more teeth are lost through periodontal gum disease than through tooth decay.

I found out more about gum disease by speaking to Glafcos Tombolis, who runs Ethicare dental practice in London. Dental care is essential to preventing gum disease as I found out…

Question: How many people come into your surgery saying that they have discovered blood on their toothbrush?

Glafcos Tombolis: “I’ve discovered blood on my toothbrush” is the most common complaint we hear in the surgery – and the reason why a lot of people come in. If you do discover blood on your toothbrush it does need to be addressed but you shouldn’t panic – I wouldn’t classify it as a need for emergency treatment.

If the bleeding is more spontaneous – for example it occurs at random times which are unrelated to eating, brushing or flossing – then this could require more urgent attention.

Q: How often is bleeding just the result of over-vigorous brushing?

GT: Over-vigorous brushing is common but it rarely causes bleeding gums. More often than not it will just cause a nick or an abrasion which can result in the gums receding – something which is obviously undesirable but won’t normally produce blood.

Q: If I don’t have blood on my toothbrush am I unlikely to have gum disease?

GT: If there’s no blood on your toothbrush you are less likely to have gum disease. However, there are exceptions. You should watch out for blood when you floss; the blood can be a sign that you’re not cleaning plaque away near the bleeding areas sufficiently.

And if you are a smoker, especially a heavy smoker your gums may bleed less. This is a dangerous thing as the bleeding can alert you and lead you to seeking help for the condition. Smoking can also make dental hygiene treatment less effective.

Q: How easy is it for a dentist to diagnose gum disease?

GT: It can be diagnosed very simply and very quickly during a thorough check-up.

Q: How easy is it for the dentist to treat gum disease?

GT: It’s normally easy to treat if detected at an early stage. We use a set protocol for treating it in the surgery – one which will involve sessions with one of our hygienists. If the gum disease has caused more severe bone loss, the bone can be difficult or impossible to grow, so, in these cases, we would just look at ways of managing the condition and preventing it from becoming worse. Management involves removing tartar and teaching a patient how to clean and floss properly to prevent plaque build-up.

Q: How good are people at brushing and flossing? I must admit I’ve never got to grips with flossing!

GT: We’re not that good at brushing and we’re pretty awful at flossing! People’s difficulties with flossing are understandable – as kids we’re not really taught how to do this at a young age, but it is a vital. We shouldn’t just rely on mouth rinses – they can be good but use them as an adjunct to flossing.

When it comes to brushing, using a manual toothbrush is harder to get right – you need to be more systematic when using one. The timers and gadgets on an electric toothbrush make it easier to clean thoroughly!

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