This is a guest article written by Anna Middleton, a leading dental hygienist & therapist and the founder of London Hygienist.
Your gums play a fundamental role in helping you maintain excellent oral health. They act as protective seals that inhibit the penetration of bacteria into your body, and they offer support and security, as their purpose is to hold your teeth in place.
Gums, like many other parts of the body, can be prone to disease. Gum disease, also known as periodontitis, begins with bacterial growth in the mouth and can lead to tooth loss if not properly treated. In fact, gum disease is the leading cause of tooth loss in adults.
“Gum disease is caused by plaque – the white sticky film that forms in all our mouths. Plaque is filled with bacteria, and some of this bacteria is good, while some of it is bad. If plaque is left behind after a period of time, it starts to irritate the gums and cause inflammation. Toxins produced by the bacteria in the plaque start to break down the bone and connective tissue that hold teeth in place. As it worsens, the pockets deepen and more gum tissue and bone are destroyed. Teeth are no longer anchored in place and become loose, resulting in tooth loss.”
Healthy gums will look firm and pink, although they may contain other pigments depending on your ethnic origin. Any change in its natural colour is a sign of poor health.
“Sore, tender, bleeding gums are a sign of gum disease. These symptoms generally indicate gingivitis, which is an early stage of gum disease. This stage is reversible, but if proper oral care is not taken, it will advance to severe stages of gum disease known as periodontitis.”
What are the warning signs of gum disease?
If you think you might have gum disease, read through these warning signs. If any of these ring true for you, you should consult a dental hygienist immediately.
- Bleeding gums when you brush, floss or eat hard food
- Gums that recede back from the tooth, making you look long in the tooth
- Halitosis (also known as bad breath)
- Loose teeth or separating teeth
- Puss between your teeth and gums paired with a bad taste in your mouth
Impact of gum disease
We know that poor oral hygiene can lead to dental decay and gum disease, but the health consequences can spread further than just the mouth. Gum disease increases the risk of several conditions as the bacteria from your mouth travels through your blood to other parts of your body.
The mouth tells us a lot about a wide range of other health conditions. Did you know for example that nutritional deficiencies and gastrointestinal disease are first diagnosed in the mouth?
From bleeding gums to recurrent ulcers poor, oral health can be a signs of further health complications. If you have poor health systematic signs can appear in the mouth, for example if you take medications or undergo hormonal changes, our mouth reflects this.
Likewise, poor oral hygiene can also put you at risk of further health issues, this is because if you are not cleaning your teeth properly, the bacteria associated with gum disease can migrate to other parts of the body in the blood, such as the heart and the brain.
How to treat gum disease
If you think you have gum disease, consult a dental hygienist. While a dentist looks after teeth, a dental hygienist offers specialised care for gums, including the management of periodontal disease.
Following a thorough evaluation of your gum health, treatment is carried out with focused cleanings, known as root surface debridement and often referred to as ‘deep cleaning’. This treatment involves cleaning under the gums and the use of specific instruments that remove plaque and deposits away from the teeth and gums.
Use an electric toothbrush once in the morning and again at nighttime for two minutes. Remember to change the brush head every three months.
Apply a small amount of fluoride toothpaste about the size of a small pea before switching on the toothbrush.
Place the toothbrush bristles against the teeth at a 45-degree angle towards the gum line. Often, we just brush the teeth, but it is important to include the gum line because this is where the plaque sits. Hold the handle gently with a light grip and only apply light pressure. Glide the brush across your teeth and gums gently, allowing the brush to do all the work. There is no need to scrub with an electric toothbrush.
Remember to brush your tongue! Up to 80% of bad breath comes from odour-producing bacteria that accumulate and hide deep within the porous surface of your tongue. You can use your toothbrush or a tongue scraper to clean the tongue.
Finally, when you’re done brushing, spit the toothpaste out but try not to rinse your mouth with water. Doing so washes away all the beneficial ingredients in toothpaste, such as fluoride, which helps to prevent dental decay. If you choose to use a mouthwash, use it at a separate time to brushing.
Toothbrushes are not capable of reaching in between teeth to remove unwanted debris. Brushing cleans only about 60% of your mouth, so interdental cleaning with floss or brushes is crucial. Cleaning between the teeth regularly helps prevent tooth decay and gum disease, which can occur when food and plaque are left lodged between teeth. If you have the space between your teeth, then opt for interdental brushes and always use the biggest size possible – you may need more than one brush size. If your teeth are tight together then dental floss is recommended. Do this once a day, preferably at night before you brush your teeth. Stand in front of the mirror so you can see your teeth, and most importantly, ensure you commit to this daily practice.