As a periodontist, keeping gums healthy is my specialty. Success begins at home with brushing, flossing and rinsing every day. This National Gum Care Awareness Month, I'd like to tell you why.
Periodontal (gum) disease is the greatest threat to the health of your gums. It is caused by plaque, a sticky, invisible film on the tooth surface. Plaque forms on everyone's teeth, every day, as a result of eating combined with the natural bacteria in your mouth. Have you run your tongue over teeth and felt a rough layer? That is plaque.
As long as plaque is removed, it is not harmful. Problems arise when it is not cleaned off but allowed to accumulate. Plaque bacteria will start to infect the gums, causing inflammation, tenderness and possible bleeding when brushing, all indicators of early perodontal disease called plaque. If you've experienced these symptoms, a periodontal exam and cleaning are in order.
If, on the other hand, plaque is not removed it will harden into calculus, which will continue to spread bacteria. As the infection grows, the gums shrink and pull away from the teeth, and the bone around the tooth socket will be destroyed. With these anchors gone, teeth will ultimately fall out.
Unlike plaque, calculus cannot be removed at home, only by a dental professional. The damages it causes can be treated by a periodontist but it can't heal itself. Clearly the wisest course of action is to prevent periodontal disease starting with dedicated home care.
- Brush your teeth. First and foremost. Brushing after meals helps remove food debris and plaque on the tooth and gum surfaces and some trapped in between. Use soft bristles that won't cause irritation and don't brush too hard. Remember to brush your tongue; bacteria loves to hide there.
- Floss! Flossing at least once a day helps remove food particles and plaque between teeth and along the gum line where your toothbrush can't reach. It's tempting to skip, but then you're only cleaning the front and back of the tooth. As I said on NBC Nightly News, not flossing is like only painting two sides of a house. The other two will rot first.
- Swish with mouthwash. Using a mouthwash can help reduce plaque and may remove any remaining food particles that brushing and flossing missed. Now that's a clean mouth.
- Consider an electric toothbrush. A power toothbrush won't let you push hard so you won't hurt your gums while getting a good cleaning. It's also helpful for people with limited manual dexterity.
- Know your risks. Smoking weakens the immune system, leaving you vulnerable to infection. A diet heavy in sugar and carbohydrates produces more plaque. Diabetes and pregnancy contrivute to periodontal disease. Age and genetics also play a role. If you are at increased risk, be sure to talk to a periodontist.
- See a periodontist. Schedule an annual comprehensive periodontal evaluation. During our advanced exam we use techniques specifically for evaluating for gum disease and assessing the severity. If necessary we'll develop a plan for treatment. Identifying gum disease earlier increases the chance of reversing it.
Celebrate Gum Care Awareness with a review of your home oral health habits. It's easy to see how dedicating a few minutes a day to a thorough cleaning can protect your gums, bones and teeth. I want you to chew and smile forever!