When it comes to looking after our dental health, a straight, pearly-white smile and minty fresh breath tend to be our primary concerns, but maintaining healthy gums is just as important. Gum disease is extremely common –most adults in the UK experience the condition to some extent at least once in their lifetime – and since it’s usually painless, you might not realise anything’s wrong.
Not only is gum disease contagious, but left unchecked, it can cause your teeth to fall out, and increase your risk of other health conditions, such as heart disease and lung infections, so maintaining healthy gums is vital for your health. Here, Dr Kamala Aydazada, dentist and founder of Kensington Cosmetic Dentist, reveals the key causes of gum disease, explains how to spot the early signs, and shares tips and habits for healthy gums:
How to tell if you have healthy gums
Healthy gums should be pink, firm and hold your teeth in place securely. If your gums bleed when you touch or brush them, it could be a sign of gum disease, which is actually ‘a generic name given to an infection of the soft tissues and bone that hold your teeth in place,’ Dr Aydazada explains.
The two most common forms of gum disease are gingivitis, and its more advanced stage, periodontitis. Characterised by bleeding gums and bad breath, gingivitis develops when plaque slowly builds up on your teeth and gums. Over time, toxins released by the bacteria in the plaque damages your teeth and gums, making them irritated, puffy and sore.
‘Luckily, if spotted and treated early by a dental professional, gingivitis is a completely reversible condition,’ Dr Aydazada says. ‘However, when gum disease persists for a longer time and is left untreated, it may develop into periodontitis.’
Periodontitis is an infection that damages both the soft gum tissue and the bones supporting your teeth. It’s an irreversible condition ‘that requires a meticulous and systematic approach in order to maintain healthy gums or slow down the progression of the disease,’ Dr Aydazada explains.
If periodontitis remains untreated, gums may become detached from the teeth surfaces, creating so-called ‘periodontal pockets’, she says. At more advanced stages of periodontitis, teeth can become loose and may eventually fall out.
8 habits to maintain healthy gums
The bacteria can’t be avoided entirely, since it builds up during everyday activities like eating, breathing and sleeping. ‘Your mouth is full of bacteria that mixes up with mucus and food particles, getting accumulated around the teeth and gums,’ Dr Aydazada explains. ‘If not cleaned thoroughly and regularly, this bacteria hardens and forms tartar. It builds up and irritates your gums, causing initial swelling, soreness and bleeding.’ To prevent this from occurring, make the following tips part of your oral hygiene routine:
1. Visit your dentist regularly
Spotting gum disease early is paramount, because it’s still possible to reverse the condition, says Dr Aydazada. ‘This is why you should have a regular check-up with your dentist, even if there are no obvious concerns,’ she says. This allows your dentist to carry out a detailed examination and note any signs of inflammation.
‘During a routine assessment, a tiny ruler called a probe would be used to measure any pockets between your teeth and gums,’ Dr Aydazada continues. ‘Your dentist may also take some X-rays to check for any possible bone loss. Your dentist or dental hygienist will be able to give your teeth a thorough clean and remove all the tartar.’
If you have never had gum disease and have good oral health, you may only need to see a dentist once every one to two years, she advises. In other cases, where you may be prone to developing problems with your gums, your dentist will advise you to have your dental appointments as often as every three to six months.
2. Brush your teeth twice a day
Maintaining a high level of oral hygiene is key. Brush your teeth twice a day for a minimum of two minutes, says Dr Aydazada. Consider investing in an electric toothbrush – it’s more effective at reducing plaque than manual brushing, and also helps to prevent you from brushing too hard, which can cause your gums to recede. Regardless of whether you choose manual or electric, swap toothbrushes or toothbrush heads every three to four months, or sooner if the bristles start to look a little worse for wear.
3. Use a fluoride toothpaste
Fluoride is a naturally-occurring mineral found in water in various amounts. It reduces the amount of acid produced by the bacteria in plaque, and also strengthens your tooth enamel via a process called remineralisation. While most toothpastes now contain fluoride, brands that contain between 1,350ppm and 1,500ppm fluoride are the most effective.
4. Clean between your teeth
‘Invest time to clean in-between your teeth using dental floss and interdental brushes – TePe brushes and Stoddard Icon are good examples,’ says Dr Aydazada. ‘Be sure to get in between each and every tooth to remove food particles that cause plaque build-up.’
If using an interdental brush, choose a brush appropriate for the size of the space between your teeth. This means you may need to use more than one size. Always insert the brush between your teeth gently, don’t try to force it into the space.
If your gums bleed or feel sore when you first use the brush, don’t panic – it’s common, and should reduce as you continue using the brushes. However, if the bleeding persists after a few days, seek advice from your dentist.
Alternatively, you could try using an electric water flosser such as a WaterPik. ‘It functions similar to floss and is very useful if you wear braces or other orthodontic appliances, or have many dental restorations and difficult to clean areas,’ says Dr Aydazada.
5. Use a therapeutic mouthwash
Therapeutic mouthwashes are both over-the-counter and by prescription, depending on the formulation. They help to kill off germs that contribute to plaque buildup, bad breath, and gum disease. Some ingredients in mouthwash to look for include cetylpyridinium chloride, which destroys bacteria; chlorhexidine, which reduces plaque; and essential oils such as methol, eucalyptus and thymol, which have antibacterial properties.
6. Eat a healthy, balanced diet
Poor nutrition can lead to poor gum health, particularly a deficiency in vitamin C, which can lead to bleeding gums and eventually gingivitis if left untreated. Vitamin C strengthen your gums and the soft tissue in your mouth, and also helps wounds heal. For adults, the recommended daily amount for vitamin C is 65mg to 90mg per day.
7. Don’t smoke...
...And if you do smoke, quit! Not only is smoking a known cause of gum disease, but it weakens your body’s ability to combat the infection caused by plaque build-up, and makes it more difficult for your gums to heal during treatment. The more you smoke and the longer you are a smoker, the higher your risk becomes.
8. Be aware of risk factors
Certain health factors can make it more difficult to maintain healthy gums, including genetics (gum disease can be hereditary), hormonal changes – such as those related to pregnancy and menopause – and certain medications that cause dry mouth or gum changes, says Dr Aydazada.
In addition, certain diseases such as diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, and Crohn's disease can increase the risk of gum disease, as can conditions that cause decreased immunity, such as HIV/AIDS, leukemia and cancer treatment.
Last updated: 04-08-2020
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