Think back to the last time you flossed. Did you spit out some blood afterwards? If so, you may be one of the nearly 65 million adults in the United States who suffer from gum disease. The good news is, if you’re still in the early stages, you may be able to treat it at home.
What is Gum Disease?
Gum disease is a broad term that refers to any infection of the gums. This happens as plaque forms on your teeth. If that plaque isn’t removed by brushing and flossing, it can harden into tartar, which is filled with bacteria and shelters an ever-growing infection. That tartar can’t be removed at home; it can only be removed by your dentist. The longer it sits on your teeth, the more damage bacteria can do.
In the early stages, gum disease can seem pretty harmless. The mildest stage is called gingivitis, and often results in symptoms like swollen, dark red gums that bleed easily when you brush or floss. This stage can also be accompanied by bad breath and receding gums. During this stage, gum disease isn’t too difficult to fight off. But if untreated, it can get worse quickly.
The next stage of gum disease is called periodontitis, and is much more serious. During this stage, gaps can form between your teeth, and you may notice pus between teeth and gums. Teeth can grow loose during this stage of the disease, and it may become painful to chew.
In advanced periodontitis, you can actually start losing teeth — but that’s the least of your worries. Advanced periodontitis can increase your risk of complications with the liver, the kidneys, and even the heart.
Treating Gingivitis at Home
The good news is, the early stages of gum disease can be treated at home.
The first step is ensuring that your at-home dental hygiene is excellent. You should be brushing twice a day and flossing daily. Make sure you’re using a soft-bristled toothbrush and a fluoride toothpaste, which combats decay. And remember, more vigorous brushing doesn’t mean it’s more effective! You should be gentle but thorough, especially since your gums will be more sensitive if you have gingivitis.
It’s also not a bad idea to add mouthwash to your routine during this time. Something as simple as a daily saltwater rinse can help treat gum inflammation. To make one at home, boil some water, then let it cool to lukewarm temperature and add a half teaspoon of salt. Swish it around in your mouth for a minute or so to help reduce inflammation. You could also try a mouthwash with tea tree oil, which studies have shown can help reduce the bleeding associated with gingivitis. There is also some evidence that a technique called “oil pulling,” when performed with coconut oil, can decrease plaque formation in patients with gingivitis.
Of course, if you suspect that you have gingivitis, step one should be making an appointment with your dentist. A cleaning can get that plaque off your teeth so that no further damage is done, and your dentist can both evaluate your gum health and provide suggestions for at-home treatment.