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Healthy Gums: A Key to Overall Health

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You have so many good reasons to keep your family's teeth strong and healthy. Their sparkling smiles, being able to chew food for good nutrition, avoiding toothaches and discomfort, etc. Your oral health is an important part of your overall health, and that includes maintaining strong and healthy gums. A new research suggests that gum problems can lead to other problems in the body, including increased risk of heart disease. Certain habits and routines are beneficial to add to the improvement of the health of your gums, and it starts and ends with brushing and flossing. Here's how to identify the characteristics of normal gum tissue and maintain good oral health and hygiene in the process:

How to Recognize Healthy Gums

Healthy gum tissue has specific characteristics. The color of healthy gum tissue can vary, but it is typically coral pink or a darker hue within this pigmentation (variations in pigment are relative to your cultural background). Healthy gum tissue is not inflamed, and therefore feels snug and natural around your teeth, not red and swollen. The appearance or presence of pockets are non existent. The shape of gum tissue typically looks knife-edged or pyramidal, and follows a curved line around the tooth. Normal gum tissue generally has a firm texture and may or may not have a stippled appearance on the outer gum – like the outside of an orange. Lastly, there is no spontaneous swelling with healthy gums.

What Causes Unhealthy Gums

Plaque germs are the primary cause of periodontal (gum) problems known as gingivitis, according to SADoctors. The gum tissue generally responds to plaque with swelling, which usually develops when there is an invasive amount built up against the gumline. When plaque germs are removed, the swelling is reversed. There may also be a relationship between gum problems and systemic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and rheumatoid arthritis. Other factors that can lead to advanced gum problems, as stated by the South African Academy of Biological Practitioners, include: -

  • Weakened immune system due to other conditions like AIDS or cancer, also favors the development of Acute Necrotizing Ulcerative Gingivitis.  Poor nutrition reduces the ability of the body to fight the infection.

  • Poor oral hygiene, that allows the build-up of dental plaque on the gums, usually contributes to the development of trench mouth.

  • Mouth or tooth infections, such as an existing untreated gum problem can easily progress into trench mouth disease.

  • Weakened immune system due to other conditions like AIDS or cancer, also favors the development of Acute Necrotizing Ulcerative Gingivitis.

Common Warning Signs

There are several signs and symptoms that you may notice or feel which can indicate early or advanced stages of gum problems:

  • Gums that are tender when brushing or flossing

  • Gums that recede or move away from the tooth

  • Persistent bad breath or bad taste in mouth

  • Loose teeth

  • A change in the way your teeth come together

  • A change in the fit of partial dentures

  • Sharp or dull pains when chewing foods

  • Teeth that are overly sensitive to cold or hot temperatures

Tender gums also commonly become swollen with brushing and flossing, but don't stop these habits altogether. Regularly removing dental plaque by brushing twice a day can help with prevention against gum problems, according to Health E News.

Healthy Brushing

There are several healthy habits that you can use to improve or maintain healthy gums. Brushing at least twice a day with a soft-bristled toothbrush will help to control plaque germs that can accumulate in your mouth. Toothbrushes that contain bristles that are thin enough to access beneath the gum line and soft enough to not cause further irritation. Position it at a 45-degree angle toward the gumline when you brush the front and back surfaces of your teeth. Your stroke movement against the teeth should be a short and gentle in a back-and-forth motion. Replace your toothbrush at least 3 or 4 times a year or when the bristles are old, damaged or frayed.

Correct Flossing

Flossing at least once a day to remove plaque germs and food debris will help to prevent gum problems while curbing tooth decay and bad breath in the process. The floss should be inserted between your teeth using gentle force. It is important to curve the floss in a "C" shape around each tooth, moving it against the tooth and below the gum line in an up-and-down motion. Then, a new section of floss should be inserted between each tooth so you don't put germs back into your mouth.

Visit Your Dentist Regularly

It is important to make regular dental checkups at least twice a year, but don't wait until you feel pain. Generally, by the time you feel tender, your gums will already have an infection or be in an advanced stage of gum problems. Talk to your dentist about your oral health; he can examine your gums to identify signs of unhealthy gums. Your dentist's office can also recommend oral health products that are most effective in meeting your specific needs. And of course, your dental hygienist should give you a professional cleaning to remove plaque germs and calculus (tartar), which traps plaque germs around and below your gumline.

About the author: Yolanda Eddis, RDH, BASDH, is a clinical dental hygienist for the United States government. She is a member of the American Dental Education Association and Esther Wilkins Education Program and is a Colgate Oral Health Advisor. Her research interests include community outreach projects. Eddis is currently pursuing her Masters of Health Science degree in a generalist concentration at Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

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