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The Best Offense Is a Good Defense Against This Oral Health Threat

A lady and a girl smiling

Who should be concerned about gum disease? Before you say “not me,” be aware that gum disease affects almost half of adults over age 30, and 70 percent of adults over age 65. Unfortunately, this condition doesn’t always show obvious signs, so millions of people don’t realize they have it until the disease reaches an advanced stage. Yet if gum disease is not caught early, it can lead to tooth loss and increase the risk of heart attack and stroke. This merits a look at how gum disease gets started.

Symptoms of Gum Disease

The first stage of the disease is an inflammation of the gums known as gingivitis (“gingiva” – gums; “itis” – inflammation). When gums are inflamed, they can be red, shiny and puffy, and may bleed during brushing or flossing. Fortunately, good oral hygiene and regular cleanings at your dentist’s office can turn early gum disease around. However, if gingivitis remains untreated, it can become more serious, progressing to periodontitis (“peri” – around; “odont” – tooth; “itis” – inflammation), an inflammation of the structures that hold teeth in place, and by definition with loss of supporting bone.

Any of the following can be symptoms of gum disease:

  • gums that are red, puffy, tender or shiny
  • gums that bleed easily when brushing or flossing
  • gums that recede or move away from your teeth, making your teeth look longer
  • bad breath or a bad taste in your mouth that won’t go away
  • teeth that are loose or that don’t fit together the way they used to
  • pus around your gums
  • If you detect any of these symptoms, make an appointment to see your dentist or periodontist as soon as possible, especially if you have not been for a regular checkup lately.

What You Can Do

We’ve seen that among other factors, age, smoking and heredity contribute to gum disease. Since we can’t avoid aging or change our genetic makeup, the best way to avoid gum disease is to focus on the factors we can control:

  • The first line of defense is your oral hygiene routine at home: Brush your teeth morning and night, using a soft toothbrush and fluoride toothpaste.
  • Use an oral fluoride rinse if your dentist recommends one.
  • Floss every day.
  • See your dentist regularly and have your mouth examined both above the gum line and below it, where a visual exam is not sufficient. The earlier gum problems are detected, the easier they are to treat.
  • Have regular professional cleanings to remove tartar and the plaque you can’t reach.
  • Avoid sugary snacks: The sugar in your food and drinks also feeds the harmful bacteria in your mouth. In fact, sugar has been called “the best fertilizer for pathogenic (disease-causing) bacteria.”
  • If you have diabetes, manage it well.

Gum disease is one of the most common chronic health problems among adults — but it’s treatable and, even better, preventable. Being aware of how gum disease gets started is the first step in prevention. In the case of early gum disease, the best offense is a good defense.