When we talk about oral health, it’s too easy to only discuss the teeth. But the environment that our teeth exist in is just as important to overall oral health as the teeth themselves. In fact, the soft tissues in the mouth can even be more important than the teeth they support.
The Role of the Gums
The gums, or “gingiva,” both support and protect teeth. They also protect the jawbone that also supports your teeth. Just like the foundation of a house, the gums need to be healthy to keep the teeth healthy. Without a strong foundation, the house is at risk — and similarly, without healthy gums, your teeth are at risk. When your gums are injured, they begin to pull away from the teeth and recede. When this happens, the bone that supports the teeth becomes vulnerable and begins to be lost. This causes your teeth to become loose, and can contribute to shifting teeth. Gum disease can result in tooth loss if untreated.
And it’s not just your teeth — gum disease actually has far-reaching negative effects on your entire body. From deadly scarring of the liver to heart disease risks, periodontitis can do damage to more than just your smile.
Wondering if you have periodontitis? Statistically, you probably do. Research shows that nearly 50% of Americans suffer from some form of gum disease, from mild to severe. The hallmarks of early gum disease are sensitive gums that bleed easily when you’re flossing or brushing, and gums that appear especially red or inflamed. Healthy gums can be easily recognized by their firm, soft pink appearance.
Protecting the Gums
To protect your gums, excellent oral health care is a must. At the very least, you need to be brushing twice a day and flossing daily. But brushing alone isn’t enough. First of all, you need to brushing well — that means two to three minutes of gentle circles with a fluoride toothpaste and a soft-bristled toothbrush. Make sure to brush along the gumline, get the fronts and backs of teeth, and not brush too hard, which can damage your enamel.
And of course, no matter how well you brush and floss, it’s imperative that you see your dentist for regular checkups and cleanings. When plaque builds up on your teeth and hardens, it turns into tartar, which you can’t remove at home. And of course, your dentist can spot trouble before it happens in the form of oncoming dental decay, gum problems, and even oral cancer.
However, no amount of brushing and flossing will make up for some of the worst offenders when it comes to gum damage: Smoking and chewing tobacco. To truly protect your gums from harm, a smoking or tobacco habit absolutely must be kicked.
Your gums may seem incidental when it comes to oral health, but they’re more than just holders for your teeth! Without healthy gums you risk not just tooth loss, but significantly increased likelihood of all kinds of unpleasant and even deadly related diseases.