Oral health begins with the health of those fleshy pink areas known as our gums. Our gums help support the teeth in our mouths, and if gum health is compromised, we can even lose some or all of our teeth. Gum health is critical for a healthy, happy smile. In this guide, we’ll look at the different stages of gum disease and offer preventative information to help your gums remain healthy and strong.
What is Gum Disease?
Gum disease is a blanket term encompassing a range of different disease types and stages. The most common and early sign of poor gum health is gingivitis, or inflammation and swelling of the gum tissues. Gingivitis can cause bleeding of the gums after brushing and flossing. This gum disease is preventable by adhering to good oral hygiene practices.
Left untreated, gingivitis can progress, becoming periodontal disease. This disease is an inflammation or infection of the bones under the gums. Over time, the infection can erode the bone supporting the tooth roots, leading to loose teeth or teeth that fall out.
What Causes Gum Disease?
Gum disease begins with plaque, the sticky substance that forms from a combination of the foods we eat, the drinks we consume, and bacteria in our mouths. Plaque is easily removed from the mouth through regular brushing. If it is not removed, it can mineralize and form tartar (dental calculus) that is very difficult to remove without dental intervention and specialized scraping tools. Plaque and tarter buildup forms a perfect breeding ground for bacteria, which can lead to infection of the gums and their underlying tissues.
Gum disease is generally caused by poor oral hygiene, but there are several other risk factors to be aware of. Common gingivitis/gum disease risk factors include:
- Smoking or chewing tobacco – these products can irritate the gums and prevent them from healing.
- Crooked or misaligned/overlapping teeth – making it harder to keep the spaces between the teeth clean.
- Cancer and some cancer treatments – cancer treatments may lead to higher infection rates, affecting the gums and tissues of the mouth.
- Alcohol use – can irritate the mouth lining and lead to infection of the gums.
- Stress – can cause imbalances in the human immune system, leading to a higher potential for infection.
- Hormonal changes – puberty, pregnancy, and menopause can cause hormonal changes, increasing the chance of bacterial infection in the gums and oral tissues.
- Poor dieting habits – diets high in sugar and lacking vitamins are leading causes of poor oral health.
- Medications – some medications lead to mouth dryness which can irritate the gums and lead to higher infection rates.
How Can I Prevent Gum Disease?
Regular brushing and flossing of the teeth go a long way toward preventing gum disease. By removing plaque before it has a chance to become tartar, you can help maintain a healthy smile. Dentists recommend a fluoride toothpaste and brushing at least twice a day for great oral health. To maximize the benefits of brushing, gently brush the margins where the gums meet the teeth in a circular pattern and with the toothbrush at an angle to the toot surfaces. This can remove trapped plaque just above the gumline. Flossing to remove food particles and plaque from between the tooth surfaces can also reduce the chance of inflammation and infection forming.
Finally, it is a great idea to receive regular checkups and cleanings by your family dentist. Your dentist can evaluate the condition of your teeth and gums, and recommend treatments to maintain your oral health. With a dentist’s help, you can ward off gum disease and have a happy, healthy smile for a lifetime of use.