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Give Gum Disease the Brush Off

If you have periodontal (gum) disease, you know this infection can leave you with sensitive teeth, persistent bad breath, and gums that are tender, red, and swollen. If you experience any of these symptoms, see a dentist promptly for advice and treatment.

In most cases, gum disease is caused by a build-up of plaque (a sticky, naturally occurring film) under and along the gums. Harmful bacteria live in this plaque. If not properly cleaned away, these bacteria multiply and infect gum tissue. In worst cases, gum disease breaks down the bone and soft tissue that surround the teeth. The result: teeth loosen and fall out.

Fortunately, there are several steps you can take to prevent gum disease — and sometimes even reverse it, if you catch it in the early stages. The National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research offers this advice:

  • Brush your teeth gently, at least twice a day, with special attention to the gum line. Use a fluoride toothpaste. To maximize your toothbrush’s effectiveness, replace it every three or four months or sooner if the bristles begin to fray.

  • Floss at least once a day. Many people consider flossing optional. But flossing is the only reliable way to clean out harmful bacteria between teeth and under the gum line, where a toothbrush can’t reach. Your teeth aren’t truly clean until they’re brushed and flossed.

  • Visit the dentist routinely for a check-up and professional cleaning. Your dentist will check for gum disease and, if you do have it, will recommend a treatment plan to follow at home.

  • Eat a nutritious diet.

  • Avoid smoking and all tobacco products. Studies show that smoking actually lowers the success of certain gum disease treatments.

“Periodontal (Gum) Disease: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatments.” National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, August 2012. www.nidcr.nih.gov/OralHealth/Topics/GumDiseases/PeriodontalGumDisease.htm Accessed 2013.

“Brushing Your Teeth.” Mouth Healthy, American Dental Association. www.mouthhealthy.org/en/az-topics/b/brushing-your-teeth Accessed 2013.

"Flossing." Mouth Healthy, American Dental Association. www.mouthhealthy.org/en/az-topics/f/flossing. Accessed 2013.