September is National Gum Care Month, an ideal time to talk about how to keep your gums healthy. Unfortunately, nearly half of adults have gum disease, which can damage the soft tissue and bone supporting the teeth. In fact, advanced gum disease is the number one reason for tooth loss among adults, and it’s associated with other health problems, including cardiovascular disease, diabetes and pregnancy complications. But there’s good news—gum disease is preventable and, in its early stages, even reversible. Here are some tips for taking care of your gums:
Keep up a good oral hygiene routine
Gum disease begins with plaque buildup, so attack the plaque in your mouth with good dental hygiene. Spend two minutes morning and night brushing all surfaces of your teeth, and floss once a day to get rid of plaque that forms between teeth.
Use a soft toothbrush
The American Dental Association recommends brushing gently with a soft toothbrush. Hard bristles can damage your gums and cause them to pull away from the teeth.
Swish with a mouth rinse
Consider using a mouth rinse. Over-the-counter and prescription oral rinses are available to help wash away food debris, reduce plaque and fight gum inflammation.
Say no to tobacco
Smoking is one of the biggest risk factors for developing gum disease. And it’s not just cigarettes but all forms of tobacco, including e-cigarettes, pipes and chewing tobacco, that raise your risk of gum disease.
Eat a healthy diet
For the best gum health, avoid refined carbohydrates (sugary and starchy foods) and make sure you are getting enough vitamin C, vitamin D and antioxidants (found in berries and green tea, for example). In addition, studies suggest that a diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids may reduce your risk of gum disease and other inflammatory conditions. These healthy fats are found in many fish, nuts, seeds, soy products and vegetable oils.
Come in for regular cleanings
Professional dental cleanings can remove plaque from the tiny spaces that are difficult to reach by simply brushing and flossing. And once plaque hardens to form calculus (tartar), it cannot be removed during your regular oral health care routine at home. Further, at the dental office we can detect gum disease in its early stages—and the earlier gum problems are caught, the more easily they can be reversed.
Gum disease is a bigger problem than you might think. More than half of all adults over age 30 have it, and that figure jumps to 70% of adults over 65. If left untreated, gum (periodontal) disease can eventually loosen teeth and cause them to fall out. It can also cause health issues outside of the mouth, including an increased risk of heart disease and other systemic health conditions.
But the good news is that gum disease can be treated—and even better, prevented! Since September is National Gum Care Month, it’s a good time to answer some frequently asked questions about gum disease:
What causes gum disease?
Gum disease is caused by certain types of harmful oral bacteria that live in a sticky film called dental plaque that collects on teeth both above and below the gum line. If this film is not cleaned effectively each day, it can eventually harden into a substance called tartar that can only be removed by a dental professional. As your body tries to fight the bacteria and the toxins they produce, your gums can become inflamed and may start to pull away from the teeth. Eventually, bone beneath the gums can start to break down and with continued bone loss, the teeth could be lost.
How do I know if I have it?
Gum disease doesn’t always produce symptoms—especially in smokers. Smoking hides the symptoms of gum disease because nicotine reduces blood flow to the area. However, there are things you should look out for. Gingivitis, a mild form of gum disease, can produce red and/or puffy gums that bleed when you brush or floss. Signs of periodontitis, a more serious form of the disease, include gum recession, bad mouth odors or tastes, and tooth looseness. But the only way to truly know if you have gum disease is to come in for an exam.
What can I do about it?
If you have gingivitis, a professional teeth cleaning and a renewed commitment to oral hygiene at home—including daily flossing and rinsing with antibacterial mouthwash—may be all you need to turn the situation around. Periodontitis may require a variety of treatments, ranging from special cleaning procedures of the tooth root surfaces to gum surgery. The first step toward controlling gum disease is visiting the dental office for an exam.
How can I prevent it?
Regular professional teeth cleanings and meticulous oral hygiene at home are your best defenses against gum disease. Avoid sugary drinks and snacks—which feed the disease-causing bacteria in your mouth—and tobacco in all forms. If you have diabetes, do your best to manage it well because uncontrolled diabetes can worsen periodontal disease.
If you’re about to undergo orthodontic treatment, you’re going to face a challenge keeping your teeth and gums clean wearing braces. That in turn could increase your chances for tooth decay or periodontal (gum) disease, which could diminish your future dental health and disrupt your current orthodontic treatment.
The main hygiene tasks of brushing and flossing are more difficult with braces because of the fixed hardware on the teeth. Your toothbrush or floss can’t always easily maneuver around the wires and brackets, increasing the chances you’ll miss some areas. These neglected areas can then accumulate dental plaque, a thin film of bacteria and food particles that’s most responsible for disease.
But although difficult, effective oral hygiene isn’t impossible. First and foremost, you’ll need to take more time to be thorough with brushing and flossing than you might normally without braces.
Second, there are some specialized hygiene tools to make the job easier. Instead of a regular toothbrush try an interproximal brush. This special brush has a long and thin bristled head (resembling a pipe cleaner) that can maneuver in and around orthodontic hardware much easier than a regular brush.
For flossing, use a floss threader, a device through which you thread floss on one end and then pass the other sharper end between your teeth. Once through, you release the floss from it and floss as usual, repeating the process with the threader for each tooth. Another option is an oral irrigator, a device that emits a pressurized spray of water between teeth to loosen plaque and flush it away. Many orthodontic patients have found this latter option to be quite effective.
Finally, continue seeing your regular dentist for regular appointments in addition to your orthodontist. Besides cleaning those hard to reach areas, your dentist can also provide other preventive measures like topical fluoride for strengthening enamel and prescription mouth rinses that inhibit bacterial growth. You should also see your dentist immediately if you notice signs of disease like spots on the teeth or swollen or bleeding gums.
Keeping your teeth clean while wearing braces is a top priority. Doing so will help ensure your new smile after braces is both an attractive and healthy one.
If you would like more information on dental care during orthodontics, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Caring for Teeth during Orthodontic Treatment.”
The March 27th game started off pretty well for NBA star Kevin Love. His team, the Cleveland Cavaliers, were coming off a 5-game winning streak as they faced the Miami Heat that night. Less than two minutes into the contest, Love charged in for a shot on Heat center Jordan Mickey—but instead of a basket, he got an elbow in the face that sent him to the floor (and out of the game) with an injury to his mouth.
In pictures from the aftermath, Love’s front tooth seemed clearly out of position. According to the Cavs’ official statement, “Love suffered a front tooth subluxation.” But what exactly does that mean, and how serious is his injury?
The dental term “subluxation” refers to one specific type of luxation injury—a situation where a tooth has become loosened or displaced from its proper location. A subluxation is an injury to tooth-supporting structures such as the periodontal ligament: a stretchy network of fibrous tissue that keeps the tooth in its socket. The affected tooth becomes abnormally loose, but as long as the nerves inside the tooth and the underlying bone have not been damaged, it generally has a favorable prognosis.
Treatment of a subluxation injury may involve correcting the tooth’s position immediately and/or stabilizing the tooth—often by temporarily splinting (joining) it to adjacent teeth—and maintaining a soft diet for a few weeks. This gives the injured tissues a chance to heal and helps the ligament regain proper attachment to the tooth. The condition of tooth’s pulp (soft inner tissue) must also be closely monitored; if it becomes infected, root canal treatment may be needed to preserve the tooth.
So while Kevin Love’s dental dilemma might have looked scary in the pictures, with proper care he has a good chance of keeping the tooth. Significantly, Love acknowledged on Twitter that the damage “…could have been so much worse if I wasn’t protected with [a] mouthguard.”
Love’s injury reminds us that whether they’re played at a big arena, a high school gym or an outdoor court, sports like basketball (as well as baseball, football and many others) have a high potential for facial injuries. That’s why all players should wear a mouthguard whenever they’re in the game. Custom-made mouthguards, available for a reasonable cost at the dental office, are the most comfortable to wear, and offer protection that’s superior to the kind available at big-box retailers.
If you have questions about dental injuries or custom-made mouthguards, please contact our office or schedule a consultation. You can read more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “The Field-Side Guide to Dental Injuries” and “Athletic Mouthguards.”
While gum recession is a common occurrence related to aging, it’s not just an “old person’s disease.” It can happen to anyone, even someone with a relatively healthy mouth. And this detachment and shrinking back of the gums from the teeth may not be a minor problem—your dental health is definitely at risk.
Here then are 4 things you should know about gum recession, and what you can do about it.
The most common cause: periodontal (gum) disease. A bacterial infection triggered by built-up dental plaque, gum disease weakens the gums’ attachment to teeth that leads to recession. To help prevent it, clean away plaque with daily brushing and flossing and visit a dentist regularly for more thorough plaque removal. If you already have gum disease, prompt treatment could stop the infection and reduce any resulting damage including recession.
…But not the only one. There are other factors that contribute to recession besides disease. In fact, it could be the result of “too much of a good thing”—brushing too hard and too frequently can damage the gums and lead to recession. You might also be more susceptible to recession if you’ve inherited thin gum tissues from your parents. Thin gums are at increased risk of recession from both disease and over-aggressive hygiene.
Best outcomes result from treating gum disease and/or recession early. The earlier we detect and treat a gum problem, the better the outcome. See your dentist as soon as possible if you see abnormalities like swollen or bleeding gums or teeth that appear larger than before. Depending on your condition there are a number of treatment options like plaque removal or techniques to protect exposed teeth and improve appearance.
Grafting surgery could regenerate lost gum tissue. While with mild cases of gum recession the gums may respond well to treatment and actually rejuvenate on their own, that might not be possible with advanced recession. We may, however, still be able to restore lost tissue through grafting. Using one of a number of techniques, a graft of donor tissue can foster new replacement growth. It’s a meticulous micro-surgical approach, but it could be a viable answer to extreme gum recession.
If you would like more information on gum recession, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Gum Recession.”
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