Much of the focus of dental hygiene surrounds teeth. Advice on brushing, flossing and keeping regular checkups are mostly geared toward preventing damaging tooth decay.
Dr. Alin Alkass notes that, while caring for teeth is an essential part of oral hygiene, caring for gums is equally, if not more important.
Your gums form the structural foundation of your teeth. A weak or eroding foundation can undermine the health of your whole mouth, putting you at risk for many serious problems, including root decay, loose teeth, infection and bone loss.
According to Dr. Alkass, the most common problem affecting the gums is gingivitis, or gum disease. Left untreated, this disease can lead to gum erosion, bone loss, tooth decay, abscesses and tooth loss. Unfortunately, periodontal disease is painless and slow to develop. leaving many unaware that they have it until significant damage has been done.
Periodontal disease begins as gingivitis, which is caused by an unhealthy buildup of bacterial plaque in the space between the teeth. Many people have experienced the effects of gingivitis, including redness, swelling and sensitivity in the gum area. Gingivitis is completely treatable with proper brushing and flossing.
If gingivitis is untreated, it can lead to periodontitis, where the gums actually pull away from the teeth and form gaps. The plaque begins to grow unchecked beneath the gum line and, in an attempt to fight the invading bacteria, the immune system actually ends up breaking down the jaw’s bone and connective tissue. Eventually, this can lead to tooth loss.
The good news is that there is plenty you can do to keep your gums healthy. Follow these simple hygiene rules:
1. Brush your teeth thoroughly at least twice a day (preferably using an electric toothbrush!). Brushing properly removes bacterial plaque from the surface of your teeth, which keeps it from building up and calcifying.
2. Floss! Flossing removes food residue from the spaces between teeth that can’t be reached by a brush.
3. Have regular checkups and cleanings. Regular cleanings remove tartar that you can’t reach with a brush. Regular checkups assess your dental health, allowing you to address small problems before they become big problems. If your dentist recommends that you get scalings or other advanced periodontal disease procedures, it’s essential that you keep all appointments and follow through with all recommended treatments, whether or not you are in pain.
3. Eat a balanced diet. Avoid excess sugar, especially if it will be in your mouth for an extended period of time (such as a hard candy). Avoid excessively starchy foods, as they tend to create a film on the teeth.
4. Don’t smoke or use other tobacco products. Tobacco can cause gum swelling, and can actually aggravate existing periodontal disease.
5. Check your gums regularly. According to Dr. Alkass, Your gums should be pink, firm and spongy. They shouldn’t bleed or feel sensitive to the touch, and they should form rather flat cones in between your teeth. Discolored or receding gums can be an indication of a viral, bacterial or fungal infection. Dark spots on your gums can even indicate cancer. If your gums are receding or discolored, it’s time for a visit with your dentist.