Healthy Teeth, Bright Smile

Lynn DENG, Dental Hygienist

What is gum disease?

Gum disease, also called periodontal disease, is an infection of the gums and bones that surround and support your teeth. The mild, early stage of gum disease, called Gingivitis, is characterized by red, swollen gums that bleed easily when you brush and floss. Because gingivitis doesn’t usually cause pain, many people ignore it and don’t get the treatment they need.

When gingivitis is left untreated, it can develop into periodontitis. In this later stage, the gum separates from the teeth and forms “pockets,” which are small spaces between your teeth and gums. These pockets collect bacteria and germs that can grow and further damage the bone that supports your teeth. Other symptoms of periodontitis include heavy bleeding of the gums, swollen or bulky gums, bad breath, bad taste in your mouth, puss around your teeth, and loose or shifting teeth.

Gum disease is caused by not cleaning and flossing teeth well on a daily basis. Our mouths make a clear, sticky substance called plaque that contains bacteria. When they come in contact with sugars, the bacteria in plaque produce acids that irritate and break down the bone and connective tissues that hold teeth in place. If plaque is not removed completely from your teeth, it calcifies into a hardened substance called tartar, which can only be removed by a dental hygienist.

Good habits to keep

Gum disease is most common in adults, but it can affect anyone, even children. Therefore, it’s important to keep good dental habits throughout your life. To form these good dental habits you should:

  • Brush your teeth twice a day, morning and evening, and floss once a day
  • Use toothpaste that contains fluoride
  • Clean your tongue with a toothbrush or tongue cleaner
  • Avoid smoking and food that contains a lot of sugar
  • Schedule visits to the dentist or hygienist for exams and cleanings twice a year

What you may not know

  • The damage that sugar does to your teeth depends more on how often you eat it than on how much you eat it. For example, after Halloween, I will let my daughter eat however much candy she wants in a set amount of time as long as she brushes immediately afterward. It would be much worse for her teeth to eat small amounts of candy throughout the day.
  • It’s better to brush gently for a longer period of time than to brush hard for a short period of time. Brushing hard or brushing with a hard-bristled toothbrush actually damages your teeth.
  • Even though you don’t eat while you sleep, brushing in the morning is extremely important to get rid of the anaerobic bacteria (bacteria that don’t require oxygen) that flourished in your mouth overnight. This is the same bacteria that give you morning breath.
  • Enamel, the white exterior of your teeth, is the hardest substance in your body. It’s even harder than your bones. Using toothpaste that has fluoride is the best way to keep your enamel strong and intact.
  • If you must consume sugary foods and drinks, it’s better to have them with your meals. Consuming sugary foods between meals can be harmful for your teeth because it increases the time your teeth are exposed to the sugar.