Leukemia can cause bleeding gums. Some types of leukemia can also cause the gums to swell. Treatment typically focuses directly on the leukemia rather than oral health symptoms.

Several different conditions can cause the gums to bleed, and leukemia is not the most likely cause. A person should consult a doctor or dentist for advice if they have bleeding gums.

This article will examine the link between leukemia and bleeding gums. It will also discuss other oral symptoms of leukemia and some possible treatment options.

A person brushing their teeth who may have bleeding gums.Share on Pinterest
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Leukemia is a type of cancer that affects the cells that help form blood in the bone marrow, usually the white blood cells.

Changes in the blood or blood cells may reduce the platelets that help with blood clotting and prevent severe bleeding. As a result, a common symptom of leukemia is bleeding.

Bleeding from leukemia may also affect the gums. Certain types of leukemia, particularly acute myeloid leukemia, may also cause the gums to swell and enlarge. This makes it easier to injure them and cause bleeding when brushing.

Leukemia could be the cause of bleeding gums if the gums have swelling or if bleeding suddenly occurs in a person with otherwise good oral health.

However, even in a person with leukemia, the condition might not be the reason that the gums bleed. Gum disease is a common cause of bleeding gums.

People with leukemia may notice other oral symptoms, such as:

  • bleeding in the mouth, which may affect the tongue, lips, or cheeks
  • swollen or painful gums
  • pale gums or paleness inside the mouth
  • an overgrowth of gum tissue around the teeth, which may cause the shape or size of the teeth to change in appearance
  • sores or injuries in the mouth

These symptoms usually relate to the destruction of blood cells and changes in the blood.

Chemotherapy targets cancer cells but can also kill healthy cells. Consequently, a person’s body and immune system may weaken, and they may develop mouth issues relating to chemotherapy, such as mouth sores and more frequent infections.

People with leukemia should be mindful of the potential risk of experiencing infections resulting in oral pain and sores.

A person should speak with a doctor or dentist about strategies for protecting the mouth.

Having a weak immune system may increase the risk associated with certain elective dental procedures, such as scaling and polishing. A dentist will usually delay these until a person’s immune system returns to normal.

Before beginning chemotherapy, some dentists recommend filling any cavities or treating severe gum disease. These measures may prevent these conditions from getting worse when chemotherapy weakens the immune system.

The following strategies may help reduce the risk of oral health issues in people with leukemia:

  • During treatment, ask a dentist to temporarily stop brushing the teeth if painful.
  • Ask a dentist about chlorhexidine mouthwash, which may reduce the risk of dental issues.
  • Try using numbing gels on mouth sores.
  • When leukemia is in remission, return to a regular oral care regimen, including brushing and flossing twice daily. Also, see a dentist regularly to manage any chronic oral health issues.

When oral health issues arise due to leukemia, treatment focuses on leukemia and not the secondary mouth issues.

Leukemia treatment options vary depending on a person’s age, their health, and the type of leukemia they have. Some options may include:

  • chemotherapy
  • monoclonal antibody therapy, which helps the body fight cancer more effectively
  • radiation therapy
  • medications for specific types of leukemia, such as tyrosine kinase inhibitors for chronic myeloid leukemia
  • stem cell transplants

Antinausea drugs may help with the side effects of chemotherapy. A doctor may recommend other treatments to support the immune system, such as antibiotics, and some people may need blood transfusions.

A doctor may also suggest treatment for oral health issues to prevent severe tooth decay and reduce the risk of infection. Some oral health treatment options may include:

  • mouth rinses to protect the teeth and gums
  • more frequent dental appointments
  • dental procedures to address infections of the gums
  • pain medications for mouth sores or sore gums
  • antibiotics to treat sores and other injuries in the mouth
  • antifungal treatments for fungal infections in the mouth

Bleeding gums may be a symptom of gum disease even in people without leukemia. Receiving prompt treatment can prevent serious health effects.

For example, gum disease correlates with a higher risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes. This means that it is vital for all people with bleeding gums to see a dentist.

A person should contact a doctor or dentist if they:

  • have leukemia and develop symptoms of an infection in the mouth, such as pain, soreness, or white growths on the tongue or mouth
  • have leukemia and cannot comfortably brush or floss their teeth
  • experience a sudden increase in gum bleeding
  • experience mouth pain and a fever, which may signal a severe dental infection

The gums both affect and reflect overall health. This means that if a person has bleeding gums, they may have health problems that extend beyond their mouth.

Bleeding gums may occur in people with leukemia due to the type of leukemia they have or a reduction in platelets that prevent severe bleeding.

A person should contact a dentist for advice if they notice that their gums are bleeding more. People with leukemia who are also experiencing bleeding gums should inform an oncologist and a dentist.