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Bleeding Gums, a Common Sign of Leukemia

Daniel Marcus';

By Daniel Marcus

Posted on April 18th, 2021 in News, Myths & Tips

Every year, over 60,500 people in the United States receive a diagnosis of leukemia, cancer that affects the tissues in the body that form blood, namely the lymphatic system and the bone marrow.

While there are numerous common symptoms of leukemia, such as swollen lymph nodes, persistent fatigue, bone pain, and enlarged liver or spleen, one of the lesser-known signs of this malignant disease is bleeding gums.

Bleeding gums are usually not a cause for concern, as there are many conditions that may cause this symptom, including hormonal changes, gingivitis, and infections, but when it is accompanied by other signs that may indicate leukemia, it is strongly recommended to visit a medical specialist so that your health can be thoroughly evaluated.

Leukemia causes a large production of abnormal white blood cells, which are unable to fight infection and also impair the ability of the bone marrow to create red blood cells and platelets.

For this reason, a frequently encountered symptom of leukemia is bleeding, which can affect the gums as well. Moreover, some types of leukemia, such as acute myeloid leukemia, may result in the swelling and enlargement of the gums.

Because they are so damaged, the gums will bleed easier when you brush your teeth or floss. It is worthy of note that bleeding gums may be the first sign of leukemia in a person who appears to be otherwise healthy.

There Are More Oral Symptoms Caused by Leukemia

All the oral symptoms of leukemia are related to the damage of the blood cells and the changes in the blood caused by the disease. However, undergoing chemotherapy for leukemia may also increase the extent to which your oral health is affected since this cancer treatment will also destroy healthy cells in addition to the malignant ones. The following are other symptoms that concern the oral cavity that may be the result of having leukemia:

  • bleeding in the mouth, affecting the tongue, lips, and/or cheeks
  • pale gums or paleness inside the mouth
  • the overgrowth of gum tissue around your teeth, which can cause changes in teeth shape and size
  • sores or injuries in the mouth

Because chemotherapy may severely damage your oral health, your dentist may advise you to have all the cavities filled and to treat severe gum disease if you struggle with it before undergoing treatment for cancer.

The immune system of cancer patients, especially if they undergo chemotherapy, is very weak, which is why you will be more susceptible to experience the risks associated with certain elective dental procedures, such as scaling and polishing. Therefore, your dentist will postpone these procedures until your immune system returns back to normal.

How to Protect Your Mouth If You Have Leukemia

Fortunately, there are numerous ways in which you can protect your oral health if you suffer from leukemia. Your dentist may recommend treatment for oral health problems to prevent severe tooth decay and reduce the risk of infection. The following are only several ways in which you can protect your mouth if you have leukemia and undergo treatment for it:

  • if you feel pain during dental treatment, ask your dentist to stop brushing your teeth
  • ask your dentist about chlorhexidine mouthwash, a product whose purpose is to decrease the risk of dental issues
  • use numbing gels on mouth sores
  • when leukemia is in remission, try to return to your usual oral care regimen, including brushing and flossing twice every day
  • see your dentist regularly in order to manage any chronic oral health issues you might have

If you experience oral health problems caused by leukemia, the treatment you will receive will focus on cancer and not on oral health issues. Nevertheless, in some cases, your doctor may suggest you seek treatment for the oral health problems you have so as to not experience irreversible damage to your teeth and gums. Accordingly, you may be recommended the following:

  • mouth rinses for protecting your teeth and gums
  • frequent dental appointments
  • dental procedures to take care of infections of the gums
  • pain medication for mouth sores or sore gums
  • antibiotics to treat sores and other injuries of the mouth
  • antifungal treatment for fungal infections in the mouth

Regardless of the oral health problem you have, you should mention it to your doctor as soon as it occurs, as it may progress at a fast pace and you may come to experience severe complications. Both your oncologist and your dentist play a crucial role in maintaining good oral health while you are fighting leukemia. Finally, you should contact your oncologist or your dentist if you experience the following problems, which may require immediate treatment:

  • have symptoms of infection in the mouth, such as pain, soreness, or white masses on the tongue
  • you cannot painlessly brush or floss your teeth
  • experience a sudden increase in gum bleeding
  • have mouth pain and a fever, which may be the symptoms of a severe dental infection

Lastly, it is important to keep in mind that leukemia, namely acute lymphocytic leukemia and chronic myelogenous leukemia, can also develop in children, which is why you should address the issue of bleeding gums as soon as possible if you notice it in your child. Receiving timely treatment for leukemia can save your child’s life, so the sooner you have their health assessed by a medical professional, the better their prognosis will be.

The survival rate for children with leukemia is very high nowadays, which is due to the effectiveness of treatment, as well as due to the fact that children’s bodies can fight off cancer significantly faster than adults’ bodies.