If you or your child’s gums bleed easily from brushing or eating hard foods, you may be concerned that leukemia could be the cause.  While bleeding gums are a common symptom of leukemia, it’s usually caused by other conditions, like gingivitis or gum disease. It may even be caused by using a hard toothbrush, or possibly by brushing too vigorously.

We recommend changing your brushing habits to see how your gums respond.  If nothing changes, it’s reasonable to seek medical attention.

Why does leukemia cause bleeding gums?

Leukemia is a cancer of the blood cells. It starts in the bone marrow, where blood cells are made.

Most types of leukemia are caused by an overproduction of immature, abnormal white blood cells. These cells overcrowd the bone marrow and blood, reducing the space available for red blood cells and platelets. A low platelet count can cause problems with bleeding and bruising.

When you brush your teeth or eat something hard, you may injure your gums. This is more likely to happen if you have plaque and tartar buildup. Even mild gum disease can irritate your gums. This makes them prone to small cuts and tears from brushing and flossing.

But people with leukemia may have bleeding gums even if they don’t have gum disease. One reason is because some forms of leukemia may cause the gums to swell. But even without apparent swelling, leukemia can make gums more likely to bleed.

What are bleeding gums, and are there other bleeding symptoms with leukemia?

Bleeding gums are usually a sign of gingivitis (gum disease). But no matter what the cause, bleeding gums may also have these characteristics:

  • swelling
  • irritation
  • redness

Leukemia can cause bleeding symptoms throughout the body. In some instances, bleeding gums may be a sign of leukemia in children or adults. Other bleeding symptoms of leukemia include:

  • frequent or excessive nose bleeds
  • very heavy menstrual flow
  • blood in urine or stool
  • bruising on skin and in the mouth
  • tiny red blood spots (petechiae) on the skin

Bleeding gums are a common, early symptom of leukemia. But most cases of bleeding gums have other causes, like gum disease. Bleeding gums that don’t go away with improvement in oral hygiene after a few weeks should be examined by a doctor or dentist.