When you think of oral health, your first thought is probably of keeping your teeth cavity-free and strong. However, maintaining healthy gums is also a critical part of having a healthy smile and excellent oral health. Gum disease is often painless, especially in the beginning stages, so many people may not know anything is wrong. To make sure your gums are in tip-top shape, read on for more information about gum disease, how to recognize the signs that it may be happening to you and how you can treat and prevent this oral health issue.
So What Exactly is Gum Disease?
Healthy gum tissue fits closely around your teeth to support them and keep them in place. Gum disease, also called periodontal disease, is the primary cause of tooth loss in adults. Catching and treating gum disease in its earliest stages is the first step in ensuring that your oral health isn’t compromised. There are three stages of gum disease:
- Stage 1 is gingivitis, a mild form of periodontal disease where plaque and tartar buildup cause inflammation of the gums. Gingivitis is reversible if treated right away; however, if left untreated, gingivitis can turn into periodontitis. This is one reason why regular visits to the dentist are so important. Your dentist can often spot the first signs of gingivitis before it turns into the next stage of gum disease.
- Stage 2, called periodontitis, infects the gum tissue, causing gum pockets and infection of the tissue connected to the teeth and bone.
- Stage 3 is advanced periodontitis, a very serious condition where gum pockets can cause gum tissue to detach from your teeth. This can lead to your teeth becoming loose and eventually falling out. At this stage, other health conditions may develop, as bacteria byproducts from your gums can enter your bloodstream.
Be Aware of the Symptoms of Gum Disease
Gingivitis, the earliest stage of gum disease, is often painless. However, there are definite signs and symptoms that will let you know there is a problem. If you notice any of the symptoms below, contact your dentist right away.
- Red and swollen gums
- Bleeding when you floss, brush or eat hard foods
- Receding gums
- Gums that are tender to the touch
- Chronic mouth pain
- Spaces between teeth and gums that cause pockets to form
- Pus developing between teeth and gums
- Loose teeth
- Chronic bad breath
- Chronic mouth sores
- Teeth that have become misaligned
Treatment Options for Gum Disease
There are several treatment options available to you if you have gingivitis or periodontitis. Your dentist will tell you what option is the best for your particular circumstances.
If you have gingivitis, your dentist will most likely recommend a deep cleaning process called dental scaling and root planning. This two-step procedure can reverse the damage caused by gum disease and help get your gums back in top-notch health.
Periodontitis requires more aggressive treatment, and your dentist will most likely refer you to a periodontist, a specialist in gum disease. Surgical procedures, such as pocket reduction to remove bacteria from the gums, gum grafting or other regenerative procedures are typical treatment options for patients with periodontitis.
How to Keep Your Gums Healthy
When it comes to healthy gums, stopping gum disease before it starts, or has progressed too far, is the key. Here are the top five ways to prevent gum disease:
1. Visit your dentist at least twice a year. Your dentist can spot the early signs of gum disease, even if you aren’t experiencing any symptoms, and get a treatment plan established right away. In addition, professional cleanings are the only way to remove built up tartar. If you have gingivitis, brushing, flossing, and regular dental cleanings can help reverse it.
2. Brush twice a day and floss once a day. This is so important, it’s worth repeating – brush twice a day and floss once a day. Good oral health care routines are critical in fighting gum disease. Use a soft bristled tooth brush and fluoride toothpaste and brush for two minutes. Flossing can be done in the morning or at night, and you can floss before or after you brush your teeth. Whatever you choose, just make sure you are flossing once a day.
3. Rinse with an antibacterial mouthwash. Therapeutic mouthwashes can help reduce plaque, prevent or reduce gingivitis and reduce how quickly tarter develops. Gargling with mouthwash also helps to remove food and debris from your teeth and gums. However, mouthwash is not a substitute for brushing and flossing. Rather, it is additional ammunition in your fight against gum disease.
4. Quit smoking. If you don’t smoke, then you are already doing something great for your gums. If you do smoke, add preventing gum disease to the long list of reasons why you should quit. Smoking weakens your immune system, making it more difficult to fight off gum infection. In addition, smoking makes it harder for your gums to heal once they’ve been damaged by gum disease.
5. Maintain healthy habits. Eat a balanced diet full of healthy vegetables and fruit and be mindful of how much sugar you are consuming. A diet high in sugar can lead not only to tooth decay, but also to the buildup of bacteria under the gums, which in turn can lead to the beginning stages of gum disease. And of course, since your oral health and your overall health are completely intertwined, make sure to exercise, reduce stress as much as possible and take the time to the things in life that bring you joy.