Gum disease is a serious oral health condition that affects over 47% adults over the age of 30 and up to 70% of all adults over the age of 65. Following is an overview of what it is, the health problems it can cause and tried and proven tips for preventing and treating it.
An Overview of Gum Disease
Gum disease is essentially an inflammation of the gums that is caused by plaque that moves from the teeth into the gums. It can be made worse by smoking, diabetes, hormonal fluctuations, substance abuse, HIV and certain types of medication. Those who are getting on in years are more vulnerable to gum disease than those who are younger, as are those who have a history of gum disease in the family.
Gingivitis, the least severe form of gum disease, causes the gums to become red and bleed easily when brushed. Without proper treatment, it can quickly turn into periodontal disease, a more severe condition that destroys the tissue and bone supporting the teeth. As bone and tissue dissolve, air pockets are created and these pockets become infected from toxins created by the bacteria typically found in plaque. The end result is loose teeth that must be removed and then replaced with either dentures or implants.
Severe forms of periodontal disease include aggressive periodontitis, chronic periodontitis and necrotizing periodontal disease. Aggressive and chronic periodontitis bring about rapid dental detachment while necrotizing periodontal disease not only destroys tissue and bones but also causes lesions. This condition is typically associated with HIV infection, malnutrition and immunosuppression.
It is important to bear in mind that gum disease is not necessarily painful. Even those who have periodontal disease will often feel little to no discomfort. However, there are other symptoms besides pain that you will need to watch out for. These include swollen gums, pus surrounding the teeth and gums, bleeding gums, chronic bad breath, receding gums, sensitive teeth, loose teeth and teeth that are sensitive to hot or cold temperatures.
The Connection Between the Gums and Overall Health
The gums aren’t just an isolated area of the mouth that only affects the teeth and tongue. There is a clear connection between the gums and the rest of the body as is evidenced by the fact that health conditions such as heart disease and lung disease can bring on periodontitis. On the other hand, inflammation of the gums can cause inflammation in other parts of the body.
Periodontitis has been linked to conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis and dementia and it can also increase the risk of having a heart attack or stroke. Women who have gum disease while pregnant are more likely to give birth prematurely and/or have a baby with a low birth weight than women who have healthy gums throughout their pregnancy. Furthermore, researchers have recently discovered that periodontal disease can increase the risk of getting esophageal, lung, gallbladder, breast and skin cancer.
How to Prevent Gum Disease
Thankfully, gum disease can be prevented. Following are some effective ways to avoid gum inflammation as well as counsel on treating it quickly should it arise.
Oral hygiene at home is perhaps one of the best ways to combat gum disease. Brush teeth at least twice a day using tartar control toothpaste that helps to prevent plaque from becoming hardened and difficult to remove. Flossing teeth prevent plaque build-up in areas that are hard to reach with a toothbrush. Dentists recommend flossing daily but doing it even twice a week can have noticeable positive results. Rinse your mouth with water after eating, swishing the water around in order to remove food particles clinging to your teeth.
Oil pulling is an old fashioned yet effective way to get rid of plaque and/or prevent it from building up in the first place. It involves putting a spoonful of liquefied coconut oil in your mouth and swishing the oil around for ten to twenty minutes a day. Coconut oil contains lauric acid which has both anti-inflammatory and anti-microbial properties. Spit out the oil when done and then brush your teeth as usual.
A healthy diet also plays an important role in maintaining healthy teeth. Foods rich in Vitamin C build up the gums and bind them to your teeth so that bacteria does not seep in. Some great foods that have a high Vitamin C content include strawberries, citrus fruits, kiwis, papaya, dark leafy greens, broccoli and Brussels sprouts. Cheese is known to increase saliva flow in the mouth, naturally washing away bacteria, increasing your oral pH level and protecting your enamel. Other foods that are particularly good for oral health include yogurt, almonds, apples, carrots and celery. Avoid foods and drinks with a high sugar content or lots of added preservatives as these not only cause dental problems but also overall bad health.
Smoking is one of the worst things you can do to your teeth. It not only causes gum disease but also makes it harder for your body to fight inflammation even after receiving proper treatment. If you smoke regularly, start cutting back on the number of cigarettes you smoke every day or consider wearing a nicotine patch until you are able to rid yourself of the addiction.
The Importance of Regular Dental Visits
The importance of seeing a dentist every six months simply cannot be overstated. A regular, thorough cleaning is one of the best ways to prevent plaque from building up and getting into your gums. Furthermore, a dentist will be able to catch gingivitis in its early stages and treat it fairly easily without using invasive procedures or expensive medications. Your dentist can also make personalized diet and dental care recommendations that will enable you to care for your teeth in the most effective way possible.
Those who have a history of gum disease and/or health problems that contribute to gum disease may want to see a dentist more than just twice a year. Regular dental check-ups can mitigate the effects of diabetes and other health conditions on your teeth, enabling you to keep them strong and healthy as long as possible. A dentist can also talk with your doctor regarding the use of certain medications that may be having an adverse effect on your oral health.
Your gums don’t take up much space but they play an huge role in oral and overall body health. It is important to keep them clean and free from plaque-laden bacteria that could cause severe, irreversible damage. Stick to a healthy diet, brush teeth twice a day and floss regularly to prevent plaque build-up. It is also imperative to see a dentist at least twice a year for a thorough examination and cleaning as well as to get professional advice that suits your specific situation. With good oral hygiene and regular, professional care, the odds of dealing with gum disease will be far lower than they would have been otherwise.