Maintaining good dental hygiene may actually reduce your risk of ulcers, pneumonia, digestive problems, heart disease, stroke and diabetes. After the age of 35, approximately 75% of us will have a form of gum disease at some point in our lives.
There are 2 forms of gum disease:
Gingivitis occurs when bacteria collect in tiny pockets at the gum line, causing inflammation. This is the most common form of gum disease, accounting for about 70%. Symptoms include bleeding when teeth are brushed and persistent bad breath.
If gingivitis is left untreated, the inflammation can spread to attack connective tissue and bones, which causes periodontitis. Periodontitis makes up 30% of gum disease.
- Being male: Men are more likely to suffer from gum disease than women.
- Being African-American: African American men are more likely than Caucasian men to develop gum disease.
- Being poor or uninsured: People at the lowest socio-economic levels tend to have the most severe gum disease. This is largely because they don’t have access to (or can’t afford) regular dental care.
- Age: As we get older, our gums gradually recede, exposing the roots of the teeth to plaque. We also produce less saliva, which plays an important role in rinsing plaque out of the mouth.
- Genetics: If your parents lost teeth to gum disease, you are at greater risk.
- Not brushing and flossing regularly
- Poor diet
- Clenching, grinding teeth
- Sensitivity to hot or cold: When gums recede, they expose some of the root of the tooth, which can be extremely sensitive to temperature changes.
- Bad breath (also called halitosis): Bad breath can be caused by smoking, eating spicy or smelly foods, or poor brushing. However, if you have bad breath that won’t go away no matter how much you brush your teeth or how much mouthwash you use, you may have a serious dental or medical problem. See your dentist right away.
Gum disease is painless in the early stages and you might not even be aware you have it. But if you notice any of the following symptoms, you should see a dentist as soon as possible.
- Red, swollen, tender gums
- Gums that bleed when you brush or floss
- Gums that have receded (pulled away) from the teeth
- Persistent bad breath or bad taste in the mouth
- Pockets of pus around teeth or gums
- Loose teeth, changes in the way your teeth fit together when you bite
- Pain when chewing or difficulty chewing certain kinds of foods (usually crunchy foods)
Good oral hygiene is the best means of prevention. This includes thorough tooth brushing and flossing, and regular professional dental cleaning.
Prevention is key. Fortunately, most cavities can be prevented, and the early stages of gum disease can almost always be reversed, but you’ll have to make a commitment to take better care of your teeth. Here are some important steps to take:
Have your teeth checked and cleaned at least twice a year — more often if your dentist suggests it.
- Brush at least twice a day with fluoride toothpaste—if possible after every meal. Use a soft bristled brush. Be sure to clean the inside surfaces of the teeth (the side closest to your tongue) as well as the outside surfaces. Replace your brush every three months or whenever the bristles fray.
- Make sure to floss every day. Plaque usually builds up along the gum line (where the teeth and gums meet) and in-between the teeth. Your toothbrush can take care of the gum line but it can’t get to the spaces between your teeth the way dental floss can. If you aren’t sure how to floss, your dentist or hygienist can show you.
- Brush your tongue or use a scraper to remove the bacteria that gathers towards the back of your tongue.
- Eat crunchy foods like apples and carrots. They actually help reduce plaque buildup on the surfaces of the teeth and may even help reduce coffee stains.
- Avoid sugary snacks and soft drinks between meals. These foods quickly convert to plaque. If you crave something sweet, try a piece of fruit instead.
- Drink lots of water. Saliva helps reduce plaque by washing it away. But age and some medications may make your mouth dry and more susceptible to plaque buildup, tooth decay and gum disease. Chewing sugarless gum is one way to stimulate saliva.
- Don’t smoke or chew tobacco. Besides staining your teeth, it can cause bad breath and lead to oral cancer.
- Avoid chewing hard candies or anything else that might damage your teeth.
- Protect yourself. In many sports there’s a risk of mouth injuries (from pucks, balls, racquets and elbows). You can reduce the chance of doing long-term damage to your teeth by always wearing a mouth guard.
- If you have dentures, most of the suggestions above apply to dentures as well as your natural teeth.
Questions to Ask Your Health Care Provider
- How can I keep my teeth and gums healthy?
- Are there foods that I should be avoiding to prevent gum disease or enamel erosion?
- What’s my overall dental health status?
- Is there anything that I should tell my healthcare provider about?
- What can I do to prevent cavities?
- There are so many toothpastes to choose from; how do I know which one to use?
- How often should I come in for a teeth cleaning?
- Is whitening teeth safe?
- Can untreated gum disease lead to other health problems
Seeing your dentist every 6 months for routine cleanings is the best prevention and treatment of gum disease. It’s important to have your teeth cleaned thoroughly, which involves various tools to loosen and remove plaque and tartar from your teeth.
Always remember to floss and brush properly, even after professional teeth cleaning, to reduce your risk of gum disease. Your dentist or hygienist will show you how to brush and floss correctly. Patients with periodontitis should have professional teeth cleaning more than twice a year.
In some severe cases surgery might be necessary.
- Deep pockets in the gums may need to be opened and cleaned
- Loose teeth may need to be supported
- Your dentist may need to remove a tooth or teeth so that the problem doesn’t get worse and spread to nearby teeth
Medications may be prescribed by your dentist which include:
- Antimicrobial mouth rinse
- Antibiotic gels
- Oral antibiotics