A beautiful smile begins with healthy gums. Gum disease originates under and along the gum line when plaque starts to build up. The bacteria in plaque can cause infections that damage the tissue of the gums and the bone.
The first stage of gum disease is gingivitis, which can manifest as inflamed, tender, red, or swollen gums that bleed easily. The damage from gingivitis is reversible, but only if it is caught before it progresses to periodontitis, a more advanced form of gum disease.
Periodontitis, when left untreated, can cause damage to the gums, tissues that connect your teeth, and even the bone. According to the American Dental Association, signs and symptoms of periodontitis include:
- Separating, cracking of loose teeth
- Bleeding gums
- Consistently bad breath or a foul taste in your mouth
- Gums that pull away from your teeth
Steps to Keeping Gums Healthy
Taking steps to keep your gums healthy protects your overall oral health. For the healthiest smile possible, implement the following steps into your oral care routine.
- Floss—Floss your teeth at least once a day to help remove plaque and food that gets lodged beyond the reach of your toothbrush. Flossing is beneficial anytime, but for the best results, floss after each meal.
- Avoid smoking—Most people know that smoking can leave your teeth stained, but it also contributes to the likelihood of developing gum disease. Smoking is also linked to a weakened immune system, making it harder to fight off dental infections.
- Have regular dental cleanings—Your dentist is the best resource for detecting early gum disease symptoms, so it is essential that you see a dentist regularly. Tartar is a calculus deposit that results from the incomplete removal of plaque. It builds up on teeth and can only be removed by professional cleaning methods. Tartar formation also makes it hard for regular brushing and flossing to remove plaque and bacteria from teeth, so skipping cleanings makes brushing less effective. Professional cleaning, along with regular brushing and flossing, can help reverse gingivitis.
- Use a fluoride toothpaste—With so many brands of toothpaste on the market, it can be challenging to choose the right one for you. Consulting with your dentist about products is always a good idea, but the most important things you should look for in toothpaste include the American Dental Association’s seal of approval and ensuring that your toothpaste includes fluoride.
Fluoride helps to strengthen your teeth and prevent damage from acids that cause cavities. Fluoride plays a crucial role in how the surface of each tooth absorbs and loses minerals and is credited with the overall worldwide reduction in dental cavities.
- Brush at least twice a day—The gold standard is brushing your teeth after every meal or snack, which will help remove food and plaque that becomes trapped between your teeth and gums. Remember that the tongue harbors bacteria as well, and give it a good scrub each time you brush.
Studies have shown that most Americans do not brush their teeth long enough. The ADA recommends that you brush at least twice a day for about two minutes. The next time you brush your teeth, set a timer, and brush as you normally would. Are you surprised to find that it is far less than the recommended two minutes? If you need a helpful reminder or want to teach your children proper brushing habits, consider setting an egg timer on the bathroom counter to get in the habit of two-minute brushing.
- Using an appropriate mouthwash—Therapeutic mouthwash can help reduce plaque, delay the onset of tartar, and reduce the chances of developing gingivitis. Mouthwash is not a substitute for brushing or flossing, but when used in conjunction with good dental hygiene practices, it can help protect the health of your gums and teeth.
Eating a healthy, balanced diet also plays a significant role in protecting your gums from disease. Some healthy food choices with proven dental benefits include:
- Apples—apples have a natural acid that helps clean your teeth as you eat, and the skin of the fruit can act as a natural flossing mechanism, making it the perfect snack for a healthy mouth.
- Dairy—calcium is essential for strong bones and teeth. Choose sugar-free yogurt, milk, and cheese for a delicious way to promote oral health.
- Fiber—Fibrous vegetables take extra chewing to break down, which in turn prompts the production of extra saliva. The extra saliva helps to wash away harmful bacteria, reducing food particles and the build-up of plaque.