Tips to Prevent Gum Disease
Gum infections are a common problem in the U.S. but there are several steps you can take to help prevent gum disease. Gum disease is caused by bacteria-laden plaque and tartar that become trapped between your teeth and gums, so a good routine of oral hygiene is essential to keep your gums healthy.
Lifestyle changes – such as consuming fewer sugary foods and drinks and stopping smoking – can also reduce the risk of microbes establishing a foothold in your mouth. Another measure to help prevent gum disease is to get regular dental check-ups and professional cleanings.
What is Gum Disease?
The initial stage of gum disease is gingivitis, caused by the reaction of the body’s immune system to the germs in plaque and tartar. This can result in inflammation, bleeding and swelling of the gums.
Left to its own devices, gingivitis can progress to full-blown periodontal disease, which can cause gum recession and tooth loss as the structures supporting your teeth deteriorate.
Plaque is a soft, sticky film that’s home to millions of bacteria. It can calcify into tartar (calculus), which can only be removed by a dental professional. However, plaque can be kept under control with effective brushing and flossing.
Regular Brushing and Flossing to Prevent Gum Disease
Good dental hygiene is the first line of defense to prevent gum disease by stopping plaque and tartar from building up in your mouth.
The American Dental Association1 (ADA) recommends brushing your teeth twice a day and adds that flossing daily is important to get rid of food debris and bacteria that can remain lodged between your teeth.
Brush your teeth and tongue in the morning and at bedtime. Use a fluoride toothpaste and a soft-bristled brush. An electric toothbrush can be particularly effective in helping to prevent gum disease because it encourages blood flow in the gums, which helps to stop infection.
Fluoride strengthens tooth enamel and makes your teeth more resilient against acids and sugars. You can get fluoride treatments from your dentist that have stronger concentrations of fluoride than those in toothpastes. A brush with soft bristles helps to avoid damage to your teeth and gums.
After brushing, rinse the brush and let it dry naturally. Don’t keep it in a closed container, which encourages bacteria growth. Replace a manual toothbrush or electric toothbrush head every three months or as soon as the bristles start to become frayed.
Rinsing your mouth out with an antibacterial mouthwash after brushing and flossing will reinforce your oral health routine.
Special toothpastes are available to help prevent gum disease. Look for a toothpaste that bears the American Dental Association Seal of Acceptance for plaque and gingivitis control.
Your dentist or dental hygienist can advise you on how to brush and floss effectively.
Check-Ups and Professional Cleanings to Prevent Gum Disease
Regular dental exams play an important role in keeping your gums and teeth healthy. The American Dental Association1 recommends check-ups every six months or as otherwise advised by your dentist, who can detect signs of gum disease that you may not notice yourself. The early stages of gum disease can be painless and free of any other symptoms.
If gum disease is diagnosed during the initial stage of gingivitis, treatment can prevent it from developing into the more serious condition of periodontitis.
Check-ups also give your dentist or dental hygienist the opportunity to carry out a professional cleaning to remove bacterial plaque and tartar, which can accumulate despite regular brushing and flossing.
The American Academy of Periodontology2 (AAP) advises all adults to get an annual comprehensive periodontal evaluation (CPE) to detect any signs of gum infections.
How a Healthy Diet Can Help Prevent Gum Disease
Sugar- and starch-rich foods increase the risk of plaque but a healthy diet will give you the nutrients necessary to prevent gum disease, particularly vitamins A and C. Research also indicates that antioxidants in vegetables and fruits can strengthen the body’s ability to fight the bacteria and inflammation that cause gum disease.
Some foods and drinks are especially beneficial in keeping your gums healthy. These include:
- Milk, cheese, and yogurts, which contain casein, a protein that combats the acids that attack gum tissue.
- Celery and apples, which dislodge food particles from the gum line between your teeth.
- Black and green teas, which contain antioxidant compounds that help to stop plaque sticking to your teeth.
Another reason to watch what you eat is the link that’s been established between gum disease and obesity3. Obese individuals are three times more at risk from gum disease as people of average weight. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention4 (CDC), nearly 70 percent of U.S. adults are obese or overweight.
How Stopping Smoking Can Help Prevent Gum Disease
Smoking can cause bleeding and swollen gums as the toxins in cigarettes attack the soft tissue, making it easier for bacteria to spread.
Smoking is also linked with many other diseases, such as cancer and heart and lung problems, and numerous other health issues.
Smoking weakens your body’s immune system, which impairs your ability to fight off a gum infection. Once your gums are damaged, smoking makes it harder for them to heal.
Research shows that:
- People who smoke are twice as likely to get gum disease as non-smokers.
- The more cigarettes you smoke – and the longer you continue to smoke – the greater the risk of gum disease.
- Treatment for gum disease may not work as well for smokers.
- Tobacco use in any form increases the risk of gum disease.
Reader’s Digest magazine5 has put together a list of more than 20 of the best ways to quit smoking.
Am I at Greater Risk of Gum Disease?
While you can do a lot to keep your gums healthy, it’s not always possible to prevent gum disease.
For instance, our gums get weaker as we get older, and some medical conditions and treatments increase the risk of gum disease. Stress and genetics can also put you at greater risk of gum problems.
If you suspect you may be developing gum disease, see a dentist or periodontal specialist6 as soon as possible.