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Great Gums Are Important, Too!

Brushing and flossing is often mentioned as a way to have healthy teeth, but what about healthy gums? Gums should not be overlooked during oral hygiene routines, as gum health is very important to both oral and total health. Finding out what healthy gums look like and what it takes to maintain them should be questions that every patient asks their dental care provider.

Patients should pay attention to their gums, because the gums have a very important role in the mouth. Gums protect the teeth from debris and bacteria, and prevent the teeth from moving during the act of chewing. Healthy gums surround the teeth, and protect the roots of the teeth from being exposed to bacteria and food that lead to infections.

Healthy gums are pink and the tissue is firm. They do not bleed, nor are they painful when brushed or flossed. Healthy gums are not swollen. However, many patients with gum disease do not have pain or obvious signs of the condition, and as a result, think their gums are healthy.

Most cases of gum disease begin as gingivitis, or inflammation of the gums characterized by swelling, irritation and redness. Gingivitis occurs from a buildup of dental plaque, a sticky film that forms over the teeth and gums. Plaque is filled with millions of bacteria, both good and bad. While plaque is easily brushed away, if patients do not practice proper dental hygiene, plaque levels increase and even calcify into tartar. Tartar stretches below the gums and spreads in between the teeth, and may lead to infection and tooth loss. Tartar cannot be brushed away; it is only removed as part of dental cleanings.

Gingivitis is treatable with dental interventions and a quality dental hygiene routine. A trip to the dentist will give patients insight to where dental plaque builds up in the patient’s mouth, and tips for treating it.

When gingivitis is not treated, patients develop periodontitis, an infection of the gums. This infection destroys gum tissue and impacts the connective tissue that keeps the teeth attached to the jaw. Untreated gum disease may result in bone loss, tooth loss and health complications that may even impact the heart and lungs. Periodontitis also impacts a patient’s bite in some cases.

Signs of gum disease include a foul taste in the mouth and persistent bad breath that is not freshened with brushing or rinsing. Other signs include loose teeth, teeth that move away or separate from others nearby, and teeth that appear elongated as gum tissue shrinks. Gums that bleed easily during brushing or flossing is also a sign of a more serious condition.

“Patients should practice proper dental hygiene regularly – at least twice a day,” said Dr. Stefania Caracioni, D.D.S, L.V.I.F.

Caracioni is a Topeka, Kansas, dentist who sees patients with periodontal disease who were unaware they had the condition because they didn’t notice the slow onset of symptoms.

“You do not wake up over night with periodontitis,” says Caracioni. “Gingivitis slowly progresses when patients are lax with their oral hygiene habits.”

Caracioni advises her patients to brush their teeth at least twice per day using toothpaste with fluoride and to floss at least twice per day. Patients should also avoid or quit using tobacco or nicotine products. Nicotine restricts blood flow necessary to maintain healthy tissues by constricting the blood vessels.

“When blood flow is restricted, oxygen that tissues need to survive is limited,” said Caracioni.

Additionally, smoking and nicotine reduce the body’s ability to fight off infection, and allow periodontitis to gain a foothold in the mouth.

Regular dental cleanings are just as important for maintaining the gums as they are for maintaining the teeth. During dental checkups, dentists inspect and examine the gum tissue and identify areas of concern. Patients concerned about gum disease should visit their dentists regularly and practice good oral hygiene techniques.