Worth Smiling About

Preventing Gum Disease 
for Overall Health

If you’re not taking care of your oral health, you could be jeopardizing a lot more than your pearly whites. So say researchers who link gum disease with a host of other health problems.

According to the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, up to 80 percent of American adults have some form of periodontal (gum) disease. The disease is caused by the natural buildup of bacteria, mucus, and other particles on the teeth as plaque. If plaque is not properly cleaned away, it can infect the tissues surrounding and supporting the teeth.

Many people have mild cases of gum disease, called gingivitis, which is characterized by swollen, red and bleeding gums. If left untreated, gingivitis can become a more serious form of gum disease known as periodontitis, which affects about 12 percent of Americans. Periodontitis occurs when gums pull away from the teeth, causing pockets to become infected. This, in turn, triggers the body’s immune system as it fights the bacteria spreading below the gums.

Researchers believe that periodontal disease may cause additional health problems by circulating bacteria from the mouth through the bloodstream, causing new infections and possibly, inflammation in other parts of the body — not to mention, an increased risk of heart disease and stroke.

Risk Factors for Gum Disease

  • Smoking cigarettes or chewing tobacco
  • Having diabetes
  • Having an autoimmune disorder
  • Being pregnant
  • Having relatives with gum disease

People with diabetes are particularly prone to problems because high glucose levels in saliva may help bacteria thrive. For pregnant women, periodontal disease increases the chance of delivering a premature baby.

Thankfully gingivitis can be prevented and even reversed with good oral hygiene. Do your health a favor and take care of your gums by following the steps below:

  • Brush your teeth gently, at least twice a day, using a fluoride toothpaste and pay special attention to the gum line. To maximize your toothbrush’s effectiveness, replace it every three or four months or sooner if the bristles begin to fray.
  • Floss at least once a day. Many people consider flossing optional. But flossing is the only reliable way to clean out harmful bacteria between teeth and under the gum line, where a toothbrush can’t reach. Your teeth aren’t truly clean until they’re brushed and flossed.
  • Eat a nutritious diet. Avoid sugary snacks and beverages.
  • Don’t smoke or use tobacco products. Studies show that smoking actually lowers the success of certain gum disease treatments.
  • See your dentist for routine check-ups and professional cleanings. Your dentist will check for gum disease and, if you do have it, will recommend a treatment plan to follow at home.

Visiting the dentist regularly is one of the best ways to prevent gum disease and the time, expense, and discomfort involved in treating it. Before your dental visit, you may want to take a quick oral health assessment to learn more about the risk factors associated with gum disease and tooth decay. Delta Dental of Idaho offers a free online self-assessment tool at 
DeltaDental.com/MyDentalScore.