Stick to your gums: The importance of gum health
Teeth are pretty easy to understand what they do and how to care for them. They give you a smile and allow you to chew, and we take care of them by brushing, flossing, and avoiding sweets. I think that most people and most of my patients understand that their gums are important to keep healthy but don’t understand much beyond that. However, I’d argue that gum health is as important if not more important than the teeth as gum problems are harder to fix than tooth problems. I’m going to break this blog down into three parts: what are the gums, what are common gum problems, and how to care for gums.
The gums are made up of two different parts of the body. First the outer layer is the gingiva which is the skin that goes around the teeth and the part that we can feel. The gingiva is the part that most people call the gums. It is important because it protects the teeth and the bone from irritation and infection by providing a strong covering much like skin does for the muscles and bones. The gums are very resilient and heal well when they are injured which is why when you get a cut or burn on your gums, they heal up within a few days. The inner layer is the periosteum which is also known as the jaw bone. This bone mainly supports the teeth so that chewing can be done. While it is harder than the gingiva, unfortunately when the periosteum is injured due to infection, it doesn’t heal as well. Often times, if the periosteum is lost, it is difficult to regrow back to its original condition.
Gum disease is classified in two different ways: gingivitis or periodontitis. Gingivitis is when the gingiva is irritated and bleeds easily when brushed or flossed. Gingivitis is usually caused by plaque being built up around the teeth which hurts the gingiva. Because the gingiva has a lot of nerves running to it, most people with severe gingivitis feel it. When this plaque is removed, the gingiva normally heals up well and feels better. Periodontitis is when the ligament that connects the tooth to the bone becomes irritated and the bone starts receding making a person “long in the tooth.” While built up plaque does cause periodontitis like it does gingivitis, other causes are smoking, diabetes, and genetic factors. Unlike gingivitis, periodontitis usually doesn’t hurt and only when the teeth become loose does a person notice it. Unfortunately, when periodontitis progresses this far, it is difficult to fix the teeth and often removing the teeth is the only option. If caught in the early stages though, it can be treated with a good deep cleaning and regular follow up.
To care for your gums, I recommend a few things. First and foremost, seeing your physician for a physical and making sure you take good care of your body. As I mentioned in the previous paragraph, some things that cause gum disease are diabetes and smoking. If someone who is smoking can stop or decrease the amount of smoking being done, the gum disease can get better. Likewise, the better someone controls their diabetes, the better controlled their gum disease will be. I do believe that mouthwash helps care for gums. For people with gum disease, I recommend using a soft toothbrush and dipping it into the mouthwash to brush onto the gums. This helps clean the gums and remove plaque. Finally, flossing helps by removing plaque that can’t be reached by the toothbrush. While I do prefer string floss, if someone isn’t going to floss due to inconvenience, I recommend the floss picks which can be found at any drug store. I find the floss picks to be easy to use which is why people will use them over standard string floss.
While the gums and gum disease are complicated, I hope that this gives you a good starting point to understanding a bit more about your mouth. While gums get less attention than teeth do, they are equally important as your teeth. Keeping them healthy is a critical part of having a healthy mouth and a great smile. If you do find that you bleed when you brush or that your teeth feel loose to you, please talk to your dentist about this. If you have any questions or concerns about your gums, please feel free to give us a call and we’ll do our best to help you out.