Gum Fitness

Keep Your Mouth in Tip-Top Shape

Gum health, close-up shot of a young woman showing healthy gums

By Pete Alfano

There is a famous saying that “the eyes are the window to your soul.” And while not as romantic, medical experts might say that your gums are a window to your health. Oral health, or lack of it, may be an indication of or precursor to heart disease, complications during pregnancy, diabetes, respiratory disease, and even dementia. 

While medical science is further identifying cause and effect, at the very least, periodontal (gum) disease can lead to tooth loss. In its early stages, gum disease is called gingivitis. As the Mayo Clinic reports, a buildup of plaque — a sticky substance containing bacteria — on your teeth can infect your gums. And infected gums cause the bone-supporting teeth to weaken, which can eventually cause tooth loss. 

Toothache, oral pain and dental sensitivity for a woman brushing her teeth in the morning.

Maintaining the health of your gums and teeth is not difficult, but it takes a commitment that people often find challenging to keep. First, visit your dentist at least twice a year. Obviously, you want to brush your teeth at least twice daily for two minutes, allocating 30 seconds each to the upper and two lower quadrants of your mouth. If possible, use an electronic toothbrush, which is more effective than manual brushing. Use dental floss to dislodge food stuck between teeth. And if you invest in a Waterpik, it adds another layer of cleansing. Finally, rinse with a mouthwash that does not contain alcohol. The process takes about five or six minutes, which doesn’t seem like too much to ask.

The signs of periodontal disease may not be as apparent at first. So, look for dark red gums, bleeding when you brush or floss, and pockets forming from gum recession that expose more of the tooth at the gum line.

Bad breath, tooth sensitivity, difficulty chewing, and loosening teeth are also warning signs. It is worth noting that smoking contributes to periodontal disease. And people with osteoporosis, which causes brittle and weaker bones, must make their dentist aware of the condition because it may affect the bone density around the tooth.   

There are treatments, including nonsurgical and more complex surgical procedures, that can alleviate gum loss. In the early stages of periodontal disease, a dentist may prescribe more frequent cleanings done by a dental hygienist. For an advanced case, you may be referred to a periodontist who specializes in gum care.

According to the Cleveland Clinic, the simplest treatment is oral or topical antibiotics to eliminate the bacteria eroding the gums. A laser or ultrasonic device can be used to eliminate bacteria and tartar buildup below the gumline, and the laser may also be used to selectively remove the diseased, inflamed gum tissue. Deep cleaning will smooth the roots under the gum line, eliminating harmful bacteria. This procedure is usually done in multiple visits and requires the patient to be anesthetized.

Surgery is for severe periodontal disease. Soft tissue grafts from the roof of the mouth build up and reinforce gums. Bone grafts use bits of a patient’s bone or synthetic material. Flap surgery enables the periodontist to temporarily lift the gum away from the tooth to allow for more complete cleaning or root scaling. There are other procedures, too, but if it all sounds daunting, the best course is to take care of your gums now and avoid the unpleasant consequences.  

Read more about oral health from Living Magazine: CLICK HERE

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