Understanding the Importance of Healthy Gums
When people think about oral health, they typically tend to focus on their teeth. And why wouldn’t they? After all, society tells us that having white, straight teeth equals a beautiful smile and, in turn, a healthy mouth. And while it’s true that taking care of your teeth is an important component in the quest for oral health, it’s not the entire story. Equally important as caring for your teeth is caring for your gums.
We all know what our gums are, but not all of us may understand what role they play in our overall health and why it is important that we take good care of them. For example, did you know that if you maintain healthy gums you are at a much lower risk for several issues including, but not limited to:
- Chronic Respiratory Disease
- Pregnancy Complications
- Various Forms of Cancer
Healthy gums also help to protect your teeth from bacteria and germs that can eventually eat away at the bone and cause tooth loss. They essentially help to create a seal that keeps the bad stuff out and the good stuff in. When taken care of, your gums are the main line of defense for keeping your body in overall good health.
So if your gums are the main line of defense in oral health, what are the repercussions of not taking care of your gums? As it turns out, there are more than you may think. Not taking care of your gums can lead to everything from minor problems, such as gingivitis, to major problems like periodontitis disease, which can cause permanent tooth loss and destroy the bones and tissues that make up the structure of your mouth. Studies have even linked poor gum care to an increased risk for deadly diseases such as pneumonia, cardiovascular disease, and liver cancer.
Let’s Talk Periodontal Disease
Periodontal disease is one of the gum issues most commonly experienced by people throughout their lifetime. The early stage of this disease is called gingivitis. You have probably heard your dentist mention this condition to you before. It is caused when bacteria gets under the gums in the form of plaque and causes irritation. If you have gingivitis, you may experience symptoms such as bleeding, swollen, and irritated gums. The good news about gingivitis is that it’s reversible. Brushing your teeth regularly, using floss, and making regular visits to your dentist will all work to help keep gingivitis at bay.
If you don’t maintain the health of your teeth, gingivitis can potentially become more serious and progress to an advanced stage of periodontal disease called periodontitis. When bacteria under the gums is left untreated, it eventually spreads further and can affect the bones and tissues of your teeth and jaw. Because your immune system is working harder to mediate the disease and damage occurring in your body, your overall health has the potential to also be affected.
Smoking and Periodontal Disease
Everyone knows that smoking is bad for their overall health, but as it turns out, it’s a huge culprit when it comes to periodontal disease as well. Did you know that people who regularly smoke a half a pack of cigarettes a day are nearly three times more likely to develop severe gum disease as compared with those who don’t? And if you smoke an entire pack a day, that risk doubles to six. Studies have shown that smoking interrupts the normal functions of the gum tissue inside your mouth. This, in turn, can increase the risk of infections and impair your mouth’s ability to heal itself. And as you might guess, the more you smoke and the longer you maintain the addiction, the higher the risk for developing long-term issues.
Can Unhealthy Gums Really Affect My Overall Health?
The simple answer is yes. Study after study shows correlations between poor oral care and poor overall health. One such correlation is with a serious disease called Endocarditis. Endocarditis is an infection of the inner lining within the chambers and valves of your heart. This can occur when harmful bacteria enters the bloodstream and subsequently attaches inside your heart. While there are several origins where this unhealthy bacteria might reside, the mouth of a person with advanced periodontal disease is considered one of the potential culprits.
Another serious correlation between poor oral care and poor overall health has recently been discovered with regards to liver cancer. A study published last month in the United European Gastroenterology Journal found that people with poor overall oral health had a whopping 75% higher risk of contracting liver cancer than those who took proper care of their teeth and gums. The study analyzed almost a half-million people over a six-year-average time period. During that time, a little over 4,000 contracted liver cancer and 13% of those who did reported poor oral health at the start of the study.
Still not sure? What if I told you that your overall brain health is related to your oral health. In March of this past year, The Journal of American Geriatrics Society published a study that showed a connection between advanced periodontal disease and an increased risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s. This wasn’t the first study to make this connection but it was the first one to rule out other lifestyle factors such as drinking alcohol, smoking, and exercise effectively increasing the overall confidence that oral health and brain health are positively tied to each other. In fact, it was concluded that patients with poor oral health had as much as a 6% higher chance of developing dementia and Alzheimer’s versus those with healthy oral care habits.
Treatments for Periodontitis
The type of treatment you receive will depend on the severity of your gum tissues. Often times, an overall cleaning at the dentist is all that is needed to remove the excess plaque and tartar from your teeth. If the problem has advanced, additional action may need to be taken. Sometimes a “deep cleaning” of a particular area is required. This entails a method called scaling and root planing where the dentist will focus on a specific place where excess plaque has formed or areas of a tooth that may be more prone to collecting excess tartar. If an infection is present, you may also receive antibiotics to help bring down the swelling and assist your gums with healing. In advanced cases, surgery is sometimes necessary to help alleviate the issue.
So What do I Need to Do to Maintain Good Oral Health?
The good news about healthy gums is that they’re not hard to manage so long as you’re consistent and follow a few basic tips:
- Brush Your Teeth – This is the single most important thing you can do, not only for your oral health, but for your overall health as well. Make sure you are brushing your teeth at least twice a day for two minutes at a time. If you can afford it, electric toothbrushes may be more beneficial, but regular brushes will also do the job. Be gentle when you brush; especially around the gum line. Harder doesn’t equate to cleaner and can actually cause damage to your gums. Brush in a circular motion and give each tooth about 15-20 brushes before moving on to the next.
- Floss – Remembering to floss your teeth is almost as important as brushing. Food particles get stuck between your teeth and under the gum line when you eat. Even the best toothbrush can’t remove everything from the cracks and crevices. Over time that leftover food can aggravate your gums and cause gingivitis, as well as, plaque and tartar buildup. Flossing once daily will help to ensure that your smile is clean in all the nooks and crannies, including the ones you can’t see. When flossing be sure to run the floss up and around the gum line of each tooth so that you can remove any hidden particles your brush might have missed.
- Watch What You Eat – Paying attention to what you eat (and don’t eat) can make a big difference in your overall oral health. Calcium is an important factor in maintaining strong bones and teeth. Adding foods to your diet, such as milk and cheese, can strengthen the bones that attach the teeth to your jaw. In addition, drinking a glass of water after eating desserts or sticky foods will help to clean out your mouth and wash down unwanted food bits that could cause bacteria to form. It’s always best to brush after every meal, but if you aren’t able, then drinking water is the next best solution.
- Stay Away From Sugary Drinks – Drinking too much sugar can be extremely detrimental for your gums and teeth. This is because when the sugar from the drink enters into your mouth, it binds with bacteria and forms an acid that attacks your teeth and gums. This attack can last up to 20 minutes after you stop drinking and resets every time you take another sip! So if you do decide to drink soda follow these simple rules: Limit your consumption to 12oz. a day and don’t sip on it throughout the day. If you can, use a straw so that the liquid doesn’t hit your teeth directly. And, as stated above, drink a glass of water once you are finished to wash away any excess sugar.
- Schedule Regular Dental Visits– A trip to the dentist is the mainline of defense when it comes to keeping your teeth and gums healthy. Your dentist will not only deep clean your teeth, but he will also look for any issues in your mouth that could potentially become more serious if left untreated. Preventing major issues before they become a serious problem is one of the best ways to ensure a long term, healthy smile.
If you are interested in learning more about the services we provide and how a dentist can help ensure your gums stay healthy and strong, please feel free to call our office. We’ll be happy to help answer any questions you may have regarding the health of your gums.