"Are my gums healthy?"
As a dentist, many of the patients I see are worried about the health of their teeth. They ask questions like:
Do I have a cavity?
Will I need a root canal?
Do you think my kids will need braces as they get older?
What do you recommend to make my teeth whiter?
Should I use an electric toothbrush?
These are all important questions that I take very seriously. You only get one set of adult teeth in your life and it’s very important to take good care of them.
But there’s another very important question you should be asking your dentist:
“Are my gums healthy?”
Today, I’ll help you understand why you can’t have healthy teeth without healthy gums, how to recognize symptoms of common gum issues, how you can care for your gums at home, and how your dentist can help you keep your gums, teeth, and mouth healthy.
Why Healthy Gums Matter
Imagine if the skin on the back of your hand got red and puffy and bled every time you touched it - you’d probably want to do something about it! Because bleeding hands aren’t normal, right? You would probably panic, and wonder “What is causing this? Do I have an infection? What is this doing to the rest of my body?”
Just like a bleeding hand is not normal, bleeding, puffy gums are not normal either, and are a sign of a bacterial infection that your body’s immune system is actively trying to fight. It’s more than just about the health of your mouth - gum disease (and the immune response your body launches to battle it) affects your entire body.
Protecting Your Teeth
Of course, you should care about gum disease because if left untreated, it could lead to tooth loss. Can you imagine life without your favorite foods, life without a confident smile, life without the ability to speak as easily as you do now?
All that could happen as gum disease takes hold. There are great ways to replace missing teeth, but it’s a lot easier (and much less expensive) to take good care of the ones you have!
Total Body Health
Gum disease affects your entire body. Both the bacteria that cause gum disease, and the chemicals produced by our immune system to fight those bacteria can contribute to a variety of health problems and adverse health events.
Periodontal disease and diabetes share a very close link. Uncontrolled diabetes can result in periodontitis, and uncontrolled periodontal disease can make it more difficult to get control of your diabetes. Periodontal disease is widely considered to be a complication of diabetes.
There are lots of other associations between gum disease and other health conditions. The bacteria that cause gum disease can contribute to coronary heart disease, may be linked to chronic respiratory infections like pneumonia and bronchitis, and may even affect pregnancy.
Symptoms of Unhealthy Gums
If you’re not sure if your gums are healthy, the best way to find out is by asking your dentist at your next checkup.
When your dentist checks your gums, he or she looks at your teeth, your gum tissue, and at the bone supporting your teeth on X-rays to diagnose gum disease, and will take measurements of the pockets between the teeth and gums around each tooth.
If you’re reading this and wondering about the health of your gums, be on the lookout for:
Gums that bleed easily when you brush or floss. Bleeding gums are not healthy gums.
Gums that are red, swollen, and tender. These symptoms can be early warning signs of periodontal disease.
Chronic bad breath. Bacterial infections can cause bad-smelling breath-- among other more serious health problems.
Loose teeth. If you notice that your teeth are starting to feel loose, this could be a sign that gum disease is starting to enter more advanced stages, and it’s important to see a dentist right away.
If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms, contact your dentist for a checkup and to learn more about your tooth and gum health.
Types of Periodontal Diseases
There are a variety of periodontal diseases, all of which can affect your oral health. The two most common are gingivitis and periodontitis.
Gingivitis is the most common, early form of gum disease. It’s an inflammation of the gums and is caused by an overabundance of gum disease-causing bacteria in your mouth. If you suffer from gingivitis you’ll notice that your gums are red, swollen, maybe tender, and will tend to bleed easily when you brush and floss.
Generally speaking, gingivitis is a mild form of gum disease and doesn’t affect the underlying bone and tooth structure, but it’s also an early warning sign that more advanced gum disease could be on the way if the gingivitis isn’t taken seriously and treated.
Untreated gingivitis can progress to a more advanced infection known as periodontitis. Periodontitis is characterized by loss of the bone that supports the teeth, which happens from the top (gum line) down, and which results in deeper “pockets” or spaces between the teeth and the gums.
These deep pockets are impossible to clean with brushing, flossing, and regular dental cleanings alone, and so they can become breeding grounds for disease-causing bacteria, leading to more bones loss. If enough bone is lost, the teeth can start to become loose.
If left untreated, advanced periodontitis can lead to irreversible loss of bone surrounding the teeth, and ultimately tooth loss.
Gum Disease Treatment Options
If you’re diagnosed with gum disease, there are several possible treatment options, depending on how severe your gum disease is, as well as a few other factors.
Simple Treatments & Prescription Mouth Rinses
If you’re diagnosed with mild gum disease, including gingivitis, the best solution - after a professional cleaning at your dental office - is often simply improving your at-home brushing and flossing techniques.
Your dentist or hygienist can give you tips to be sure you’re brushing and flossing properly to keep your gums as clean as possible, and may recommend an electric toothbrush for even better plaque removal. Some over the counter mouth rinses have been shown to improve the health of gums with mild gingivitis - check out our blog post on mouth rinses, and ask your dentist if one would work well for you.
Scaling & Root Planing
Sometimes also called a deep-cleaning, this treatment for more advanced gum disease involves removing disease-causing bacteria and hard tartar deposits below the gum line.
Once the surface of the tooth and root is cleaned and smooth, gum tissue can re-attach to the root, reducing deep, unhealthy pockets between the tooth and the gum, and allowing for the gums heal and becomes healthy again. Loose teeth may even firm up a bit.
The idea is to eliminate bacteria and create a healthy situation to prevent bone loss around the teeth from progressing.
Advanced Surgical Treatments
If you have advanced gum disease involving infection of the underlying bone and connective tissue, you may require more advanced surgical treatments, including:
Bone and/or tissue grafts. If there’s advanced bone loss due to periodontal disease, the only option may be a surgical treatment where healthy bone and tissue is grafted into sites with bone defects, replacing lost bone and tissue.
Laser surgery. Some dentists offer high-tech laser surgeries that can help remove bacteria and diseased tissue to promote growth of healthy gum tissue with less pain than traditional treatment options.
Winning the Fight Against Gum Disease
Preventing gum disease starts with frequent and thorough brushing and flossing at home, using good technique. Ask your dentist or hygienist to teach you if you’re not sure you’re brushing and flossing properly.
Regular check-ups and cleanings from your dentist can help remove built up plaque, tartar (hard bacterial deposits that won’t brush away with a toothbrush), and keep bacterial growth in check.
Are You at Risk?
There are a variety of lifestyle and genetic risk factors that can increase your chances of developing gum disease. Do you fit into one of the following groups?
Smokers and users of tobacco products are at risk of developing gum disease.
People with diabetes and circulatory issues are also at higher risk of developing gum disease.
Anyone with chronic immune conditions must be vigilant to avoid infections like gum disease.
Older people with weakened immune systems can develop gum disease which can progress quickly.
Contact Batchelor Dentistry for an Appointment
If you’re in a high-risk group, suffer from tender or bleeding gums, or just have questions about how to prevent gum disease, contact me. I’ll work with you to help you understand your risk of gum disease and develop a treatment plan if necessary.
Your gums are just as important as your teeth! Make sure you treat them well and minimize your risk of developing gum disease!