It's worrying to see, but toddlers and bleeding gums represent an early warning sign of poor tooth brushing routines, unhealthy diets or other oral issues in your child. Bleeding gums are a symptom of a condition called gingivitis including signs of red, swollen gums and pink-stained saliva after toothbrushing. There are actions that parents can take to combat the issue. Improving brushing habits and feeding your toddler a more tooth-friendly diet usually reduce bleeding in seven to 10 days, according to the International Association of Paediatric Dentistry (IAPD).
Causes of Bleeding Gums
Common causes of bleeding gums in toddlers include plaque, gingivitis, dry mouth and gums and injury to the gums. The buildup of plaque is one of the most frequent causes, as explained by the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD). Bacteria in the mouth feeds on sugars from sweet and starchy foods, which combines with plaque that develops on gums and teeth and causes decay, tartar and inflamed gum tissue. Inflamed gums will bleed when brushed.
The IAPD details how dry gums can bleed easily, with toddlers often developing dry gums when breathing through their mouths instead of their noses due to allergic reactions, swollen tonsils or adenoids. A short upper lip also prevents some toddlers from closing their mouths at night. In the case of dry gums being the cause of the bleeding gums, only the upper gums are usually affected. Healthy gums also sometimes bleed when injured by vigorous brushing or brushing with a hard-bristled toothbrush.
Tackling Bleeding Gums
Brushing twice a day with a suitable toothbrush reduces bleeding gums in most toddlers, as stated by the AAPD. Mom or Dad should brush a toddler's teeth if the child doesn't have the manual control to brush correctly. Independent preschoolers might wish to do this themselves, but a parent should help until the ages of seven or eight, which is when children normally have the dexterity to brush properly.
The best times to brush your toddler's teeth are after breakfast and before bedtime. Brushing teeth after sugary or starchy snacks is also strongly recommended. Use a soft-bristled, small-headed brush that fits comfortably in your toddler's mouth, and smear toothpaste on the bristles for toddlers under two years of age, or use a pea-size amount for children aged two to five. Make sure to floss between teeth that are close together.
Toddlers and bleeding gums can also be prevented with a healthy diet, as explained by the Australian Dental Association. Most people know that soft drinks and candy are bad for gums and teeth. But did you know that fruit juice and dried fruit snack bars are also high in sugar? Chips, bread, crackers, pasta and pretzels can also cause bleeding gums. Eating regular meals of vegetables, whole grains, lean meat and dairy products and snacks of fruit or cheese helps reduce bleeding gums. One way to prevent your toddler from asking for unhealthy snacks is simply not to have them in the house.
If regular brushing and a healthy diet don't reduce your toddler's bleeding gums in a week to 10 days, other action may be required. You can smear a small amount of petroleum jelly on your toddler's lips and gums at night to prevent dryness. Visit your dentist or pediatrician if you're concerned about more serious conditions.
Avoiding Tooth-Brushing Tantrums
It is difficult for reluctant toddlers to allow Mommy or Daddy to brush their teeth, but you can turn brushing into a positive experience:
Invite your toddler to brush your teeth.
Hold up a mirror so your toddler can see what's happening when you brush his teeth.
Buy a few toothbrushes and toothpastes, and let your child choose between them.
Allow your toddler to see you brushing your teeth.
Stay calm, happy and relaxed; praise positive behavior and ignore undesirable behavior.
Bleeding gums in toddlers is a condition that should be quickly treated with regular brushing and a healthy diet. Maintaining these improvements in the long term should prevent the problem from recurring. Encourage good habits in your toddlers to give them a beautiful smile that lasts a lifetime.
Learn more about how to brush your toddler's teeth in the Colgate Oral Care resources.