Few people need convincing to care for their teeth. Most of us grow up with our parents carefully instilling a regular brushing habit into our day-to-day routine. From the time we can hold a toothbrush, we are reminded of the importance in keeping our teeth safe from decay and cavities. But what about gums health?
Your gums and your teeth
Maintaining gum health is just as important as the health of your teeth; the health of one very closely affects that of the other.
Healthy gums are pink and firm. They gently hug around the neck of each tooth. By doing so, they simultaneously keep your teeth firmly in place and prevent bad bacteria from getting into your bloodstream.
The good news is that you already know how to keep your gums healthy—brush twice a day for two minutes, ideally with a rechargeable electric toothbrush, and floss once every day. Limit consumption of sugary and acidic foods. Visit the dentist for regular checkups at least twice a year. Avoid using your teeth as tools to open packaging or bite nails.
Gum recession, in and of itself, isn’t always a bad thing. It can happen naturally over time as we age, even despite excellent dental habits. That said, it can have a negative impact on your oral health and occur at a rapid rate from abuse. Habits like brushing too hard, smoking, and wearing incorrectly fitting partial dentures or crowns can all lead to the gum line receding at an alarming rate.
Gums will also recede as a result of poor oral habits. As plaque, tartar, and food particles are allowed to build up along the gum line, you gums will become irritated and begin to pull away in an attempt to escape the irritants. This pulling back results in a receding gum line, as well as inflammation.
Inflammation will occur from gum tissue becoming agitated by tartar, bacteria, and other irritants. When tissue is damaged or pulls away from the tooth’s surface, it creates an opening for bad bacteria to get through, resulting in inflammation. This leads to the development of gingivitis and if left untreated, gum disease.
Inflammation in the mouth can spread throughout the body, inflaming arteries and putting the body at risk for other health issues. One study found that 46% of patients who had lost up to nine teeth also had carotid artery plaque, which is linked to an increased risk of heart attack and stroke. Of those who had lost more than 10 teeth, 60% were found to have this plaque.
Inflammation from dental health issues in expectant mothers is also linked to preterm birth and low birth weight.
Inflammation of the gums leads to gingivitis, a precursor to gum disease. Plaque that is allowed to remain undisturbed will turn into tartar, a hard substance that can only be removed during a professional cleaning. Tartar irritates gum tissue and is a catalyst to gum recession and inflammation that lead to gingivitis.
Signs of gingivitis are inflamed, tender, swollen gums that have begun receding or easily bleed. The good news is that gingivitis is reversible when properly treated. As soon as you notice signs of gingivitis, and general poor gum health, you should contact the dental office to have an exam for diagnosis and treatment.
Periodontitis: Gum disease
When inflammation and gingivitis are allowed to remain untreated, they will develop into the far more serious and destructive periodontitis, also known as gum disease. As gums recede and become inflamed, both tartar and bacteria will make their way underneath the gum line, where they will begin to wreak serious havoc.
Gum disease is a vicious cycle that damages teeth, bone, gums, and connectivity tissues. This damage is not reversible and often requires surgical procedures to restore dental function.
As the gums become further inflamed and irritated, they continue to pull away from the surface of the tooth. This creates a pocket and more space for bacteria and plaque to spread deeper below the surface to continue its path of irritation, inflammation, and infection.
As the body works to fight off the infection, surrounding healthy tissue is also destroyed in the process. This results in loose teeth, tooth loss, and even a shrinking jaw bone.
Gum health and your overall health
Gum disease is associated with an increased risk of chronic and degenerative diseases, such as diabetes, heart disease, respiratory diseases, pregnancy complications, and dementia.
Those with these afflictions are more at risk for developing gum disease and should let their dentist know of a diagnosis. And because of the association between the two, those with gum disease should be aware of the symptoms of the related diseases, as they are more at risk of developing them.
But why is this? Experts believe inflammation is the common thread linking these health issues to periodontitis. For example, infection, such as chronic gum disease, can make it more difficult to manage diabetes and can even cause insulin-resistance.
Gum health and the jaw bone
Gum disease is the number one cause of tooth loss in adults. As we’ve learned, gum disease in itself causes irreparable damage to the jaw bone as the body fights off infection. But tooth loss, an all too common result of this disease, also leads to a loss of the jaw bone’s supportive structure.
Our bones are in a constant flux of building up the precise shape, mass, and density needed to function under the demand we put on them. The bone tissue of the jaw that supports your teeth depends on how much stress they undergo each day to maintain its supporting shape and strength.
The more stress the teeth and jaw undergo, the more of this bone tissue will be built up to meet the demand. And as is the case with missing teeth, the less stress it undergoes, the less tissue will be made. As the width and height of the jaw bone become reduced over time, the face collapses in, and what teeth are left become at risk of loosening and falling out, as well.