Healthy vs. At-Risk Gums

Healthy teeth and healthy gums are inseparable. It’s impossible to maintain healthy teeth without also caring for the gums that support them, and it’s likewise impossible to keep your gums healthy without proper hygiene for your teeth. Periodontal disease – that is, infection of the gums, bone and other tissues supporting the teeth – can lead to loosening of teeth, changes in tooth alignment, and eventually even tooth loss, and keeping your gums healthy and clean is paramount to preserving your smile.

Periodontal disease is caused by plaque that builds up on and between the teeth. When plaque accumulates, the bacteria in plaque can infect the soft tissues, destroying the gums, and weakening the bond between the teeth and bone. Preventing gum disease is as simple as maintaining proper dental hygiene every day.

Know if you’re at risk.

Infographic on Gum Disease in the United States

Gum disease should be a concern for everyone, but there are factors that increase the risk of infection. If any of these apply to you, it should be even more important to give your teeth and gums the proper care they need before the onset of symptoms.

Your diet can be an important risk factor. Sugary foods not only cause tooth decay, but they increase the build-up of bacterial plaque. Sodas and other soft drinks can be especially harmful because their acidic content erodes tooth enamel, and even sugar-free sodas can weaken your teeth’s resistance to decay.

Decayed teeth greatly increase the risk of infection, because cavities near the gum line can trap plaque and may be difficult to clean. It’s always best to treat tooth decay as early as possible, but it’s equally important to give extra care to the hygiene of these areas in the meantime to prevent further decay as well as the onset of infection.

Tobacco use greatly increases the risk of gum disease, and hurts your body’s ability to recover once these infections occur. This is a serious problem not just for smokers, but also for users of smokeless or chewing tobacco. For many health reasons, doctors and dentists recommend against tobacco use, but those that do should take extra care.

A family history of oral disease can also mean an increased risk. Genetic factors can influence one’s vulnerability to many kinds of disease, and your teeth and gums are no different. Periodontal infections won’t occur spontaneously, but some are more susceptible than others, and should take make sure to maintain proper care as a preventative measure.

Care for your teeth and gums daily.

1. Brush at least twice a day. Brushing your teeth thoroughly is the first step to removing the harmful plaque that can cause infections. The best times to brush are after breakfast, and in the evening before bed. When possible, it’s recommended to brush after every meal.

Quick Tip: The toothbrush that you use can also make a big difference. Soft, round bristles are gentler on the gums, while bristles with a crisscross arrangement can more effectively reach small spaces in fewer passes.

2. Flossing is likewise very important. Since gum disease is caused by trapped plaque, the small spaces between teeth along the gum line are often the most vulnerable. Flossing should be done once a day, between every tooth, after brushing your teeth. While your mom probably taught you the importance of flossing, she may not have emphasized technique. Don’t floss too hard, as you can actually puncture or damage your gums!

3. Mouthwash should be the third part of your daily dental routine. Mouthwash doesn’t just keep your breath fresh, it’s contains important antimicrobial ingredients that help to kill the bacteria that can cause infections like gingivitis and periodontitis. Check to make sure your mouthwash contains cetylpyridinium chloride or chlorhexidine gluconate, as these ingredients help to fight dental plaque and reduce the risk of infection.

4. Pay special care to the gum line. The area where the gums meet the teeth is especially vulnerable, so try to brush this area at an angle with a soft brush to get hard-to-see plaque deposits that form near the gum line.

5. Visit your dentist twice a year. Even with diligent care, a dentist will usually be able to spot problems before they become apparent to the patient. Catching these signs early is the first step to a speedy and thorough recovery, and delaying your visits can allow disease to advance undetected.

Signs of Periodontal Disease

If you notice signs of periodontal disease, see your dentist immediately. When treated early, most patients will be able to recover completely, but the worse an infection gets, the more difficult it can be to reverse the effects. Here’s what to look for when checking your teeth:

  • Redness or tenderness of the gums
  • Bleeding after brushing or flossing
  • Receding gum line
  • Bad breath that persists after regular cleaning
  • Pus along the gum line
  • Loose teeth or shifting tooth alignment