How do you know if your gums are healthy? What are some common signs of trouble? And how can you prevent and reverse gum problems? Today we’re going to be delving deeper into your gums’ health.
Gums are a vital component of overall dental health. Gums protect your teeth and jaws, similar to how our muscles protect our bones. They help hold your teeth in place and support your teeth while chewing and talking. Your gums also contain blood vessels, which means that issues that impact your gums can then also hurt not just your teeth, but also other areas of your body. And similar to your eyes, gums are good indicators of larger health problems.
Gingivitis vs Periodontal Disease
Gingivitis is the initial stage of periodontal disease. It occurs when tartar builds at the gumline, agitating and inflaming the gums. It is the inflammation of the gumline that is gingivitis. Once the gums worsen and start to recede, this is when gingivitis turns into periodontal disease, better known as gum disease.
Gum inflammation starts with simply not removing the plaque from around your teeth. Over time, the bacteria will increase and gums will become more swollen and sore, and begin to pull back from the teeth. During the initial stages, you can make changes to your dental routine to combat the earliest symptoms of gingivitis, but once more advanced issues arise, only dental professionals will be able to properly treat the disease. We’re going to first go over what can happen should gum disease continue to worsen and how it can impact the rest of your body, before discussing ways to prevent gum issues.
Health Impacts of Gum Disease
The most obvious impacts of gum disease can be seen in your mouth. Swelling, redness of gums, and bleeding while brushing or flossing are usually the first indicators of a problem. If steps are not taken to reverse this stage, eventually the gums will separate far enough from teeth that teeth can fall out. The bone density of the jawbone can also lessen and gum infections (abscesses) can become more frequent. But beyond your mouth, gum disease can also impact other areas of your body.
Your body is a masterfully crafted, intricate machine where all individual parts work together to function properly. When one part starts to go bad, it can lead to issues with other areas. While we think of gums as only related to our oral health, gum disease can actually cause a host of other health issues. For instance, once bacteria builds up too high, it can start to spread into your bloodstream, causing potential blood clots, putting you at a higher risk for a stroke or heart attack. Harvard Medical School even published an article online linking periodontal disease to diabetes and dementia. While they cannot definitely say gum disease was a main contributing factor to these diseases, they have at least found a common link between patients with diabetes and dementia also having gum disease. As quoted from the article, “It’s an association, not a cause-and-effect relationship,” says Dr. Van Dyke. “But inflammation, which plays a role in all these conditions, seems to be the link.”
Reversing Gum Disease: Is it possible?
So we’ve just gone into quite a bit of detail as to what can happen if you let gum issues escalate, now let’s dive into how to reverse any issues you have now before they worsen.
Gingivitis, the initial stage of gum disease, affects more than half of the US population. Beyond standard cleanings, it’s one of the most common reasons people visit the dentist. If you currently have swollen, painful, or bleeding gums, a professional cleaning may be needed to scale the hardened plaque (or tartar) off your teeth near your gumline. This is a very important reason to keep your scheduled cleanings twice a year. Aside from in-office procedures, changing your dental routine can keep gingivitis away.
If gum issues are more progressed, sometimes they can not be reversed or require dental surgery to correct. Dentists may need to do a deeper bacterial cleanse, and potentially even perform soft tissue grafts to build back lost gum lines and stabilize teeth. Gum pocket reduction surgery may be needed to repair areas where gaps between the gum and tooth are too large. This will help prevent infection from building in these areas. Additional surgeries may be needed to help address bone or tissue loss.
Caring for your gums
The easiest way to prevent gum disease is to follow a good oral hygiene routine. Brush at least twice a day and floss at least before bedtime. You can also follow up with mouthwash. Swishing a good rinse can clear any stuck debris and also kill any active bacteria in your mouth. The result is better-smelling breath and also healthier gums.
Also, changes to your lifestyle can improve your oral health. Skip the tobacco products – smoking triples the risk of gum disease. Eat healthier – nix the soda and sugary products that can create more bacteria and hurt your teeth enamel, and add in more natural foods like vegetables, fruits, etc. Try adding in more fatty fish (or fish oil) to your diet! A large-scale study looking at the dental health of more than 9,000 people over a 5-year span uncovered that Omega-3 fatty acids have been linked with lower rates of gum disease.
While gum disease does not develop overnight, it is important to understand why gums are so important to your overall dental health and to develop a strong dental routine to prevent issues from arising. Using a phone alarm can be helpful to remind you to not only brush but floss nightly, especially if flossing is something you try to avoid. And most importantly, don’t ignore your dentist. Seeing a dentist twice a year for a deep clean is vital to keeping your gums and teeth healthy.
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