Teeth aren’t the only things in your mouth that need to be cared for. From your gums to your tongue, molars to canines, everything in your mouth needs proper care to stay healthy. In this blog post, we’ll take a look at what you can do to care for your gums — and why it’s so important.
How to Care for Your Gums
When it comes to gum health, you fortunately don’t have to learn a bunch of new rules. The basics are pretty much the same:
- Brush twice per day with fluoride toothpaste
- Floss consistently
- Visit the dentist regularly for a routine checkup
While the routines are the same, there are a few tips and tricks you can learn to take better care of your gums.
But First, Why Does Gum Health Matter?
Your gums and underlying bone play an important role in your mouth: they keep your teeth in place. If they aren’t healthy, that job can be a harder one to do. Poor gum health can lead to disease that can affect other parts of your body. In fact, gum disease has been linked to heart disease, diabetes, and even dementia, among other conditions.
The bottom line: healthy gums reduce risk of oral infections, tooth loss, and cavities along with heart disease, diabetes, and other negative health impacts associated with the oral-systemic connection.
There are two main types of gum disease:
- Gingivitis — Gingivitis is a rather mild gum infection with symptoms like swelling and bleeding. It can typically be treated easily, just by following the three steps above (brush, floss, visit the dentist).
- Periodontitis — Periodontitis, on the other hand, is the more serious gum disease that comes about when gingivitis is left untreated. Its symptoms include the same swelling and bleeding caused by gingivitis, along with tooth sensitivity, pain while chewing, receding gums, and bone loss that can lead to loose teeth or tooth loss.
Treatment for Gingivitis and Periodontitis
With periodontitis, the infection impacts your gum tissue as well as the bones that hold your teeth in place. These cases can sometimes be treated non-surgically if they aren’t too far advanced.
Gingivitis or periodontitis can usually be treated without surgery. Advanced cases of periodontitis may require more invasive care, however, potentially including surgery. Depending on the severity, the disease may require a variety of different surgeries, bone grafts, and other methods of regenerating lost tissue.
Habits for Good Gum Health
- Brushing — To avoid gum disease, make sure to brush all sides of your teeth in a circular motion. Be gentle along your gumline, but make sure that you brush where your gums meet your teeth. Bacteria can easily build up along the gum line, which is a recipe for gum disease and tooth decay if left unattended.
- Flossing — When you floss between your teeth, don’t just go straight in and out. Move the floss back and forth as you ease in. This helps make sure you are dislodging any food residue or bacteria that has built up between your teeth, and it will help clean and strengthen your gums.
- Fluoride — Finally, consider adding a fluoride mouthwash to your oral health care routine. Mouthwash isn’t a replacement for brushing and flossing, but it can help add an extra layer of cleaning and protection.
Other Factors Impacting Gum Health: Food & Drink
A well-balanced diet can help strengthen your gums. Nutrients like vitamin C, vitamin D, omega-3 fatty acids, various B vitamins, and zinc have all been linked to gum health. Vitamin C, for example, plays a major role in collagen production, an important component of gum tissue. Vitamin C deficiency can result in bleeding or inflamed gums.
Smoking and drinking are also important considerations when it comes to gum health. The best recommendation is always to quit smoking altogether — both for cancer prevention and overall oral health management — and limit alcohol consumption. If you do smoke and/or drink, however, staying hydrated is a good way to mitigate some of the negative effects.
Drinking water won’t prevent the oral and pharyngeal cancers that smoking causes, but it will help with dry mouth that can result from tobacco or alcohol consumption. Click here for more about the ways that dry mouth can lead to tooth decay and gum disease.
All in all, gum disease and the habits that help prevent it follow the same narrative of most oral disease. While it is entirely preventable, if left unattended, gum disease can get seriously out of hand, leading to poorer overall health and more invasive, expensive treatments. Good personal habits go a long way, but they must be paired with affordable, accessible, preventive care.
NCOHC, a program of the Foundation for Health Leadership & Innovation, works to advance systems-level changes, improving the overall health and well-being of all North Carolinians by increasing access and equity in care. To stay up-to-date and get involved, join us today as a North Carolinian for Change.