If your dentist mentions your periodontium during a checkup, there's no cause for alarm. You haven't developed a strange dental disease. This dental term describes your gums and the other soft tissues that surround and support your teeth.
Your Teeth's Support Network
Your teeth have a demanding job. They chew your food, help you speak and support your lips and face. To work effectively, your teeth must sit firmly in your gums but also move slightly under pressure. This is where your periodontium comes in. As the Journal of Dentistry and Oral Hygiene explains, this part of the mouth includes the cementum, the periodontal ligaments, the gums and the alveolar bone. Cementum surrounds the tooth roots, periodontal ligaments link the cementum to the alveolar bone and gums cover the bone. Together, these structures hold the teeth securely but not too rigidly.
Dental decay and cavities are bad for your oral health, but did you know that it's also important to avoid gum disease? Healthy gums protect the rest of the periodontium and the roots of your teeth. However, if bacteria and plaque invade your gum tissues they can bleed and become red, sore and swollen. This first stage of gum disease is called gingivitis.
Untreated gingivitis develops into periodontal disease, which affects the rest of the periodontium. The gums become swollen and red and shrink away from the teeth, forming pockets. As the other structures break down, the pockets deepen and the teeth can fall out. Periodontal disease is associated with illnesses that affect the whole body, including diabetes and heart disease.
What Activities Damage the Periodontium?
To reduce your chances of developing gum disease, the Harvard Medical School advises avoiding smoking and eating a diet rich in fruit and vegetables. Smoking more than one-and-a-half packs of cigarettes a day increases the risk of periodontal disease by a factor of six, and smoking even one-half of a pack of cigarettes per day increases the disease risk threefold. Smokers are also more likely to develop hard, calcified deposits at the gumline called tartar, and they may suffer from greater bone loss at the tooth roots.
There is evidence that your dietary choices may also help prevent gum disease. Eat a healthy diet that includes nuts, legumes, fruit, vegetables, vegetable oils and fatty fish to help to prevent inflammation that may affect the gums.
Keep up with a good daily oral hygiene routine and attend regular dental visits to keep your gums healthy. Use a soft-bristled toothbrush to gently brush your teeth twice daily, and brush at a 45-degree angle toward the gumline. Floss once per day, making a C-shape with the floss around each tooth to remove food debris and plaque. Rinse once per day with a mouthwash that protects gum health. Finally, visit your dentist at least twice a year for a checkup. They can spot signs of gum disease that you may have missed and treat them before the condition becomes serious.
If you keep your gums clean and healthy, you're protecting the rest of your periodontium. Ask your dentist's advice about how to keep your gums in good condition. You'll be on your way to reducing your risk of serious gum disease and tooth loss.