How to Keep Your Gums and Teeth Healthy
Brushing and flossing your teeth isn’t hard to do, and doing both properly can help prevent gum disease and tooth loss. According to the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, gum disease is the primary cause of tooth loss among adults.1
Gum disease is caused by plaque—a naturally occurring, sticky film made of bacteria, mucus, and other particles—that forms on the teeth. When the plaque is not removed, it hardens into tartar that harbors bacteria.2 The bacteria can cause inflammation of the gums, called gingivitis.3 Tartar can be removed only by a dental hygienist or dentist.
Gum disease has three stages:
Gingivitis, the early stage, is characterized by red, swollen gums that bleed easily. When caught early, the condition often can be reversed by proper brushing and flossing.
Periodontitis involves inflammation around the tooth. It is a more advanced form of gum disease that occurs when plaque that hasn’t been removed hardens into tartar. This causes the gums to pull away from the teeth and form pockets of infected material. The bacterial toxins start to break down the bone and connective tissue that hold the teeth in place, causing the teeth to loosen and fall out. It can be treated by scraping tartar off teeth roots or, if severe enough, with gum surgery.
Advanced periodontitis is characterized by further gum recession and bone destruction. At this stage, teeth may need to be extracted if periodontal surgery doesn’t restore bone support.4
Symptoms of periodontal disease usually appear when the condition is advanced. They include:
Bad breath that persists
Red, swollen, and tender gums
Pain when chewing
Loose or sensitive teeth5
The following factors put a person at more risk of developing gingivitis:
Good oral hygiene can help prevent gum infections, cavities, and tooth loss. Here’s how you can protect your teeth:
Brush your teeth twice a day with fluoride toothpaste, paying special attention to the gum line.
Floss between teeth at least once a day.
Eat a balanced diet and limit between-meal snacks.
Visit your dentist regularly for professional cleanings and oral exams.
Ask your dentist about dental sealants, a protective plastic coating that can be applied to the chewing surfaces of the back teeth where decay often starts.6
Floss with Care
Flossing helps remove plaque and food particles stuck between your teeth. For best results:
Cut off about 18 inches of floss and hold it tightly between your thumbs and forefingers. Guide it between your teeth using a gentle, rubbing motion.
When the floss reaches the gum line, curve it around one tooth. Gently rub the side of the tooth, moving the floss with up-and-down motions. Repeat this method on the rest of your teeth, remembering to floss the back side of your back teeth.7
1 “Periodontal (Gum) Disease.” National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, National Institutes of Health, March 10, 2008. www.nidcr.nih.gov/DataStatistics/FindDataByTopic/GumDisease/ Accessed 2010.
2 “Plaque.” American Dental Association. www.ada.org/3101.aspx?currentTab=1 Accessed 2010.
3 “Causes of Gum Disease.” American Academy of Periodontology. www.perio.org/consumer/gum-disease-causes.htm Accessed 2010.
4 “Types of Gum Disease.” American Academy of Periodontology. www.perio.org/consumer/2a.html Accessed 2010.
5 “Symptoms of Gum Disease.” American Academy of Periodontology. www.perio.org/consumer/gum-disease-symptoms.htm Accessed 2010.
6 “Frequently Asked Questions About Periodontal (Gum) Disease." American Academy of Periodontology. www.perio.org/consumer/faq.htm Accessed 2010.
7 “Cleaning Your Teeth and Gums (Oral Hygiene): FAQ.” American Dental Association. www.ada.org/2624.aspx Accessed 2010.
Online Medical Reviewer:
Eakle, Stephan W., DDS
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