It’s important to keep your gums healthy and clean to avoid not only gum disease but also dementia, heart disease, and diabetes.
While we all know it’s important to keep your teeth clean and fresh, sometimes we can forget that the fleshy pink gums right above are just as important.
According to the CDC, nearly half of Americans 30 years and older have some form of gum disease. And that rate of gum disease among the population increases as you get older, with 70 percent of the population 65 and older having some form of the condition.
But if you think oral health is just a problem for your dentist to deal with, think again. As researchers have been discovering, the health of your gums has consequences far beyond your mouth.
In an interview with Cleveland Clinic’s Health Essentials, periodontist Sasha Ross, DMD, MS, explains that the mouth isn’t a separate environment.
“[Y]ou should think of your mouth as an extension of the rest of your body,” Dr. Ross says. “By looking in a person’s mouth, I often get a sense of what their overall health is.”
What causes unhealthy gums?
Unhealthy gums can be triggered by a variety of issues, including:
This often occurs when someone has poor dental habits, meaning they do not regularly brush and floss properly. The American Dental Association recommends brushing at least twice a day for two minutes and flossing once a day.
If you have a family history of gum disease, you might be at higher risk of the condition.
Smoking or chewing tobacco
Tobacco both irritates the gums and weakens your immune system. This combination puts you at particularly high risk of gum disease. Quitting smoking will benefit nearly every aspect of your health.
A crowded mouth
Crooked and tight teeth can make oral hygiene more challenging. Be sure to know where those tough-to-reach spots are in your mouth, and then give them extra attention.
A lack of vitamins B12, D, and C have been shown to increase your risk of gingivitis and periodontitis.
Knowing the causes of gum disease can help you identify any changes you might need to make.
Signs of gum disease
If you have gum disease, you’ll probably see and feel the effects of it. That’s because symptoms of gum disease include:
● Swollen, red, and/or bleeding gums
● Bad breath
● Often having a bad taste in your mouth
● Pain when you eat
● Sensitive teeth
● Loose teeth or teeth that have slightly detached from the gums
If you have any of these symptoms, be sure to make an appointment with your dentist.
The health effects of unhealthy gums
There are lots of health risks that come with unhealthy gums — some obvious and some that may surprise you.
Gingivitis and periodontitis
Neglecting your gums can cause bad breath or toothaches, and eventually, unhealthy gums can lead to the gum diseases gingivitis and periodontitis. Both conditions refer to inflamed gums. Gingivitis is a milder version, whereas the more severe periodontitis can often result in the loss of teeth.
Inflammation of the gums can trigger higher blood sugar levels, putting you at a higher risk of Type 2 diabetes.
A large study published in 2020 found that older people with gum disease were more likely to get Alzheimer’s disease or other dementias than those who didn’t have gum disease.
Gum disease has been linked to significantly greater risk of heart attacks and other cardiovascular events. Researchers found that bacteria causing infections in the gums can go into your bloodstream and then into your heart vessels.
In a 2020 observational study, Harvard researchers found that people with severe gum disease were at higher risk of stomach and esophageal cancer than those with healthy gums. Another study found that people with periodontitis were also at higher risk of head and neck cancers.
Unhealthy gums affect more than your oral health. Caring for your gums can help keep your whole body healthy.
How to prevent gum disease
So, you’ve heard all the perils of gum disease, but what can you do to avoid it? Below are great ways to keep up with your oral hygiene and ensure you have healthy teeth and gums for years to come.
● Brush your teeth and along the gums at least twice a day with a toothpaste containing fluoride.
● Floss between your teeth at least once a day.
● Replace your toothbrush at least once every three months.
● Go to the dentist for regular check-ups and cleanings.
● Don’t smoke.
While the effects of gum disease can be severe, the good news is there are easy ways you can help prevent it. If you have any questions about your teeth, gums, or general oral health, be sure to set up an appointment with your dentist.
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