The Easy Way to Maintain Healthy Gums and Keep Your Teeth

How do you know if you have gum disease? By the time your teeth start falling out, it’s a little late for diagnosis! Gum disease, also known as gingivitis, is a condition that can sneak up on you, but it’s easily corrected with regular cleanings and some simple at-home oral care. Here are twenty things everyone needs to know about this all-too-common oral health condition.

  1. Gum disease causes pain for a few days, but the damage can continue for weeks, months, or years.

    Gingivitis is a condition of inflammation. The immune system tries to get rid of plaques of bacteria stuck to your teeth with inflammatory substances, and destroys the gum around the tooth in the process. The first time you get a plaque, it hurts for a few days. The the pain stops, but the gums continue to deteriorate, making your teeth look longer. Eventually gingivitis destroys the gum surrounding a tooth completely and the tooth falls out.

  2. Gum disease is caused by Streptococcus mutans bacteria that everyone has.

    Is gum disease contagious? Technically, it is, but everyone already has the bacteria. Their job is to clean up small amounts of carbohydrate that get stuck to our teeth, in the same way acne bacteria actually keep pores clean as long as there aren’t too many of them. The problem is, if you eat a lot of carbohydrates, your mouth becomes an endless buffet for the gum disease bugs.

  3. Gum disease starts with occasional symptoms.

    How can you know if you have gum disease? The most common early warning sign is bleeding when you brush your teeth. If your gums are white and swollen, and then red and swollen, then you need to see a dentist in a week or two. If your gums develop black spots making cone-shaped indentations into the tissue, then you need to see a dentist in a day or two. And if your gums and tonsils are both sore and you can’t eat or drink, then you need to go to the emergency room immediately.

  4. Brushing too hard makes gum disease worse.

    Healthy gums don’t need to be massaged like you were running a belt sander or a floor polisher. In fact, you can make gingivitis worse by rubbing your gums so hard that they bleed. The area that needs the work during brushing is the tooth right at the gum line. Get particles off the tooth, and the bacteria on the gum won’t have more than they need to survive. Break open your gums with overly vigorous brushing and you give bacteria places to hide.

  5. Flossing the wrong way makes gum disease worse.

    It’s important to remember that you floss your teeth, not your gums. Wrap floss around a tooth and pull back and forth to loosen food particles from the tooth. Don’t rub the string of floss into your gums. If you have food stuck between your teeth, press against the food, not your gums, with a triangular plastic toothpick or an orangewood stick.

  6. Alcohol-based mouthwashes can make gingivitis worse, not better.

    Alcohol dries out your mouth. This gives bacteria millions of tiny crevices in which to hide in your gums, in your tongue, and in the sides of your mouth. Don’t use an alcohol-based mouthwash on a regular basis.

  7. Detergents in your toothpaste can make gingivitis worse, not better.

    The ingredients sodium lauryl sulfate and sodium laureth sulfate can cause inflammation in the gums that keeps them from healing.

  8. Aspirin relieves inflammation.

    A baby aspirin a day can stop the inflammation that causes gingivitis, and also have other heart benefits. Before you start taking aspirin every day for long periods of time (for more than a week), ask your doctor if there are any reasons you should avoid it. And don’t take any aspirin if you are allergic to it.

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  10. Herbs can help in small doses.

    Gels made with the herb calendula soothe inflammation and pain. A drop of tea tree oil added to your toothpaste once or twice a week stops the growth of the kinds of strep bacteria that can cause cellulitis and other serious gum infections.

  11. Sticky sweets are worse for your mouth than melt-in-your-mouth sweets.

    The bacteria that cause gum disease feed on sugar, but sticky sugars feed them longer. If you eat Tootsie Rolls or caramel, make a point of brushing your teeth as soon as possible!

  12. If you choose Listerine, it is best to use the liquid version.

    Listerine pocket packs freshen your breath but they do not treat gingivitis.

  13. Chlorhexidine (Peridex or PerioGard) can cause staining of your teeth.

    Chlorhexidine binds to the tannins in coffee, tea, and red wine. Don’t drink these beverages within two hours of using a chlorhexidine mouthwash.

  14. The jury is still out on baking soda toothpastes.

    Chances are your dentist likes baking soda and peroxide toothpastes, but professors of dentistry are not sure about them. They definitely remove stains on your teeth. And what the formal clinical studies have not investigated is which users get good results and which don’t. If you tend to eat sticky sweet foods, however, these toothpastes will definitely help.

  15. Stannous fluoride toothpastes don’t get rid of plaque.

    They kill some of the germs that cause plaque, but they won’t, despite what advertising says, remove tartar from your teeth.

  16. Cepacol and Scope have to be used at the right time to work.

    Cepacol, Scope, and other mouthwashes that contain the ingredient cetylpyridinium kill the bacteria that cause plaque, but only if they are used at least one hour after brushing. If you use them right after you brush, they are fine for controlling bad breath but they won’t work for gingivitis.

  17. Fluoride toothpastes inhibit acid-loving bacteria.

    But so does brushing more often with a toothpaste that doesn’t contain fluoride.

  18. Using a toothpick does not replace flossing.

    If you have gaps between your teeth, using a toothpick can get food particles out, but toothpicks can’t get food particles off the back of your teeth. Only flossing the right way can, by wrapping the floss around the tooth, rather than running floss up and down between your teeth.

  19. Even people who have dentures need to floss.

    Gum disease can strike denture wearers, too. If you have trouble getting floss between the teeth in your bridgework, try a device called a floss threader.

  20. It’s best to drink the often-recommended eight glasses of water every day.

    Constantly keeping the mouth moist helps saliva remove food particles, keep the mouth alkaline, and wash away bacteria.

  21. If you smoke, consider cutting back or quitting.

    All of the effects of gum disease are worse in smokers. At least reducing the number of cigarettes you smoke will help.