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Gums: Your Teeth’s (Less-Popular) Best Friend

Gums

Have you ever wondered why teeth (like the most popular girl in school) get all the attention, but gums, the things that literally surround your teeth with support (like the loyal sidekick), rarely get a second glance? Well, maybe now’s the time to change that.

In other words, there’s always been lots of talk about keeping your teeth healthy: brush regularly, see the dentist, wear a mouthguard, you know how it goes. But what about the rest of the story? What advice do we ever receive about keeping our gums healthy, and why should we care? The truth is, a healthy mouth starts with healthy gums. And there are plenty of things you can do to keep your gums (and therefore your mouth) healthy and disease free.

Healthy gums: looks are everything

Let’s start with healthy gums. What should they look like? Healthy gums should be easy to spot. Although the color of gum tissue can vary from person to person, it’s typically a shade of coral pink. Healthy gum tissue generally has a firm texture and is not inflamed, which means that it should feel natural, snug and comfortable around your teeth.

How to spot unhealthy gums

Unhealthy gums have many different symptoms. If you notice them, it may indicate that you’re in the early (or late) stages of gum disease and should bring them up at your next dental visit:

  • Bad breath

  • Bleeding after brushing or flossing

  • Red, puffy or inflamed gums

  • Gums receding from teeth

  • Pus when you press against your gums

  • Changes to the natural shape of your bite

  • Loose or separating permanent teeth

Gum disease in its many unwelcome forms

Gum disease is caused when the toxins within plaque (the bacterial film that can build up on teeth) start to attack your gingival tissue (the area around the root of the tooth, that keeps your tooth in place). The bacteria burrows into your gums, causing an infection, which results in irritation and inflammation. There are several different types of periodontal (gum) disease:

  • Gingivitis: The mildest type of gum disease. It can be treated with root planing, deep scaling and specialized mouthwashes.

  • Chronic periodontal disease: Causes inflammation of tissue below the gumline and destroys bone tissue. It can’t be completely cured, but can be treated with antibiotics, tissue grafts, and root planing.

  • Aggressive periodontal disease: Causes rapid loss of gum attachment and bone tissue. Treatment may require some type of surgical intervention.

  • Periodontal disease relating to systemic conditions: This is a type of gum disease resulting from conditions affecting your entire body, including diabetes, heart disease and respiratory disease. You need to treat the underlying condition to fight this type of periodontal disease.

  • Necrotizing periodontal disease: Causes tissue death within your bone, ligament and tissue that surrounds and holds your teeth in place. Generally, affects people with systemic conditions like malnutrition or HIV, as well as heavy smokers.

You could be increasing your risk of gum disease

Aside from bacterial plaque, there are a few different factors which can lead to periodontal disease, including smoking, obesity, medications, poor nutrition, grinding your teeth, age or stress.

Make your gums stronger

So, what is the advice for keeping your gums healthy? The answer is surprisingly simple, maintain good oral hygiene practices. Here are a few suggestions on some specific steps you can take to to make gums stronger (and yes, some of these may sound familiar):

  • Brush your teeth using fluoridated toothpaste. Do it twice a day for two minutes each time. And the ideal way of removing plaque at your gumline is not to brush the gums themselves, but to to slant your brush at a 45° angle and brush your teeth (along the gumline) back and forth.

  • Floss once a day. Don’t worry if your gums bleed the first couple of times you do it.

  • Eat healthily. This means cutting down on the simple carbohydrates and sugars in your diet.

  • Avoid smoking. Tobacco can weaken your body’s immune system, making it more difficult to fight off a gum infection. According to a recent study, smokers are at twice the risk of gum disease compared to non-smokers.

  • Use a soft-bristled toothbrush. A toothbrush with hard bristles may irritate the gums.

  • Wash your mouth out with a mouth rinse after brushing.

  • Visit your dentist regularly. A visit to the dentist for a routine check-up or dental cleaning is the perfect way to not only help ensure the prevention of gum disease, but also your best chance of having a professional spot it in its early stages.

Finally, no one is suggesting that you take your focus off your teeth in pursuit of a healthy mouth. (Like the popular girl, they are always going to be front and center.) And as you can see, if you’ve been taking steps to keep your teeth healthy, your gums have also been benefitting, probably without you even realizing it. However, it’s still important to remember that your gums are providing a very important supporting role in your overall oral health so should not be overlooked (the way that poor, faithful sidekick often is.)

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