Gum disease can also lead to bone deterioration, tooth loss, and permanent damage that requires surgery. Despite this, gums are largely neglected. Almost half of the adult population over the age of 301 has gum disease to a certain extent, even though it can be easy to prevent with proper oral hygiene.
Not sure if your gums are at risk for developing gum disease during self-isolation? Learn how to tell if your gums are healthy and what steps you can take to heal them if you haven’t been as diligent with your oral care routine.
Healthy gums vs. unhealthy gums
One reason gum disease is so prevalent is because early symptoms of dental problems are mild and easy to ignore. Luckily, the signs are easy to identify.
Signs of healthy gums
Some signs your gums are healthy and that your dental care routine is paying off include that your gums:2
- Are firm and pink (varies with complexion)
- Fit tightly around your teeth
- Hold teeth snugly in place (no wiggling permanent teeth)
- Don’t easily bleed
- Aren’t tender or swollen
Signs of unhealthy gums
Conversely, you may have unhealthy gums if they:3
- Are bright red and swollen
- Feel painful or tender to the touch
- Bleed easily when brushing, flossing, or even eating
- Are receding (leaving behind dents in the tooth where they used to be)
- Look pale/white and thin
How to prevent gum disease
While you might be concerned that proper gum health could be a chore, taking good care of your gums doesn’t require that much extra effort. In fact, maintaining your gum health looks a lot like a proper dental hygiene regimen. Some steps to take to prevent gum disease from forming include the following:4
- Brush twice a day with fluoride toothpaste. When you brush, use a soft, nylon brush and gentle, circular motions. Don’t brush too hard, as this can irritate your gums even more, and be sure you replace your brush every three to four months.
- Drink water. Water that contains fluoride can help strengthen your enamel.
- Clean between your teeth once a day. Use floss or an interdental cleaner.
- Stay away from sugary foods and drinks. Foods with sugar and simple carbohydrates can help promote the growth of plaque.
- Rinse every day. Rinsing with mouthwash kills bacteria that can cling to teeth and gums, and it flushes out any leftover food particles or plaque that brushing or flossing may have missed. If your gums appear swollen or red, try rinsing with saltwater a couple of times a week to promote a natural (and affordable) healing process.
- Visit your dentist regularly. You should be making trips to the dentist at least once a year—more if you’ve noticed any signs of unhealthy gums like bleeding or redness. Unhealthy gums mean that your mouth has already accumulated tartar, which is much harder than plaque and can usually only be removed with dental tools.
- Quit smoking. People who smoke or use tobacco have twice the risk of developing gum disease.2 Tobacco use can cause dry mouth or leave sticky deposits on your teeth, creating the perfect environment for plaque build-up and bacteria.
How to treat gum disease
If you notice any signs of unhealthy gums, contact a dentist as soon as you can. They can determine if you have gum disease or periodontitis and develop a treatment plan.
The sooner you seek treatment, the better. In its early stages, gum disease is still reversible, but once it becomes more severe, it’s more difficult, painful, and expensive to treat.
The degrees of treatment for gum disease are as follows:
1. Root planing and scaling
Root planing and scaling is a deep-cleaning procedure and often the first step your dentist will take. This procedure involves removing built-up plaque, tartar, and microbial toxins from the mouth, creating a healthy environment for your gums to heal.5
Root planing and scalings are completed in one or multiple sessions and, in mild cases, may be the only necessary treatment.
2. Gingival flap surgery
As gum disease advances, gums begin to pull away from teeth, making them vulnerable to harmful bacteria and build-up. Pockets between the gums and teeth, called flaps, form and may require surgery to correct.6
3. Bone/tissue grafting
In the case of gum disease, dentists may need to perform soft tissue or bone grafts to either help cover the roots of teeth that have become exposed due to receding gums or to remove deteriorating bone and promote healing.7
Ongoing dental maintenance
Depending on how your body responds to treatment and the severity of your gum disease, your dentist may require additional visits to monitor the healing process. These visits can include more deep cleaning or antimicrobial medicines for your teeth and gums.
It pays to take care of your gums. By investing a few minutes of your day to properly clean your teeth and gums, you can save yourself thousands of dollars and have a beautiful smile to show for it. A dental insurance plan can help cover some or all of the cost of preventive care, so be sure to consider your options as you decide how important healthy teeth is to your overall health. If you have concerns about your current dental insurance coverage to treat gum disease, it is important to review your policy.
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Brought to you by The Guardian Life Insurance Company of America (Guardian), New York, NY. Material discussed is meant for general illustration and/or informational purposes only and it is not to be construed as tax, legal, investment or medical advice. This is not dental care advice and should not be substituted for regular consultation with your dentist. If you have any concerns about your dental health, please contact your dentist's office.