Did you know that September is National Gum Care Month? While proper dental hygiene is crucial all year round, this monthly observance provides the perfect opportunity to learn the importance of gum health and what you can do—both at home and the office—to prevent gum disease. Here’s everything you need to know.
What Is Gum Disease, Exactly?
Periodontal disease (more commonly referred to as gum disease) is the result of an infection and inflammation of the gums, ligaments and bone around the teeth, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). While gum disease progresses slowly, if left untreated, it can lead to extensive bone loss that causes teeth to loosen. Eventually, the affected teeth could need to be removed. The main culprit of gum disease is plaque which is a sticky film that contains bacteria. If not removed with regular brushing and flossing, gum disease can begin. Gum disease affects more than half of adults over 30.
In the earliest stage of gum disease—known as gingivitis—bacterial toxins found in plaque cause the gums to become red, swollen and bleed easily, and bad breath may be noticed. This phase of gum disease is typically remedied by a routine cleaning at the dental office along with proper home care.
When gingivitis remains unchecked, plaque is allowed to harden into tartar, which can then cause gum tissue to pull away from the teeth. This eventually forms pockets that accumulate more tartar and bacteria, leading to the deterioration of the bone and ligaments holding the teeth in place. This advanced stage of gum disease is often referred to as periodontitis.
Working to Maintain Gum Health
It isn’t hard to keep your gums firm, pink and healthy, but it does involve establishing good oral health habits both at work and at home. The main focus should be keeping the amount of harmful oral bacteria to a minimum. Here are a few simple ways that can be accomplished:
- Brush thoroughly with a soft-bristled toothbrush and fluoride toothpaste at least twice a day, brushing on and around the gum line. For an extra ounce of prevention, consider keeping a toothbrush in your desk for brushing after lunch.
- Replace toothbrushes often, since frayed bristles don’t clean as well (and old brushes can harbor bacteria).
- Flossing once a day is a must. If you are too tired to do it at night or feel too rushed in the morning, flossing at work after lunch is a good habit to develop.
- Rinsing with an antimicrobial mouthwash can reduce bacteria in the mouth. Check with your dentist to see what kind of mouth rinse is best for your oral care needs.
- Certain illnesses and numerous medications can cause dry mouth. To combat this condition—which creates an environment where bacteria thrive—try to sip water throughout the day, chew sugarless gum or suck on sugarless lozenges.
- Schedule routine dental checkups and regular professional cleanings based on your dentist’s recommendation.
- Smokers and smokeless tobacco users should consider quitting since tobacco use increases the risk of gum disease and makes it harder for gum tissue to heal.
- Diabetics need to be diligent about keeping their diabetes under control since high sugar levels can heighten the risk for gum disease.
- Practicing good nutrition and opting for healthy foods can help lower the risk of gum disease. Bacteria love sugar, so it’s a wise idea to request that your company’s vending machines be stocked with lots of water, milk, yogurts, apples and other healthy options.
Reviewing Your Dental Plan
Another way you can help promote gum health this September is to take some time to review your organization’s dental plan. You can assist your colleagues in preventing gum disease by showing them how to take advantage of all the preventive benefits. And for those currently diagnosed with gum disease, you could help them determine the level of benefits payable for upcoming periodontal services.
While most people equate good oral health with not having any cavities, good oral health also means having healthy gums. And for anyone who values having their teeth for a lifetime, it’s important to do whatever is necessary to prevent gum disease.