How to Keep Your Gums and Teeth Healthy
Brushing and flossing your teeth isn't hard to do. And doing both correctly can help
prevent gum disease and tooth loss.
Gum disease is caused by bacteria found in plaque and tartar. Plaque is a sticky film
that forms on the teeth. It is mostly made up of bacteria, mucus, food, and other
particles. When plaque isn't removed, it hardens into tartar, which gives a home to
bacteria, according to the American Dental Association (ADA). Bacteria in plaque and
tartar cause inflammation of the gums, called gingivitis. Tartar can only be removed
by a dental hygienist or dentist.
Gum disease has 3 stages:
Gingivitis. In this early stage there are red, swollen, tender gums that bleed easily. If caught
early, the condition can often be reversed on its own with correct brushing and flossing.
Mild to moderate periodontitis. The next stage has increased inflammation and bleeding around the tooth. It happens
when bacterial poisons in plaque and your own body's defenses start to break down
the gum attachment to the tooth. This causes the gums to pull away from the teeth
and form pockets of infected material. Early bone loss around the teeth may be evident.
Treatment at this stage is vital to prevent more bone loss and teeth from getting
Advanced periodontitis. This stage shows gum pockets that have gotten deeper and heavy destruction of bone
that holds teeth in place. At this stage, teeth may become so loose that they need
to be removed if periodontal treatment doesn't restore bone support.
Symptoms of periodontal disease often appear when the condition is advanced. Symptoms
These factors put a person at more risk for developing gum disease:
Smoking or using chewing tobacco
Hormonal changes related to pregnancy and menopause
Certain medicines that reduce saliva
Good oral hygiene, such as brushing and flossing at least twice every day, can help
prevent gum infections, cavities, and tooth loss. Having your teeth cleaned and checked
by a dentist or dental hygienist at least once a year also is important, the ADA says.
No matter how well you brush, tartar and plaque can still build up and cause gum problems.
To brush correctly:
Brush in the morning and before going to sleep.
Use a soft-bristled brush and toothpaste that contains fluoride. If you can afford
the cost, buy and use an electric toothbrush.
Place your toothbrush at a 45° angle against your gums and brush each tooth 15 to
Move the brush gently, using short strokes. Don't scrub.
Brush the outer tooth surfaces using short, back-and-forth strokes.
Brush the inner upper front teeth by brushing vertically against them using short,
downward strokes. Use short, upward strokes for lower inside teeth.
Brush the chewing surfaces of the teeth with short, back-and-forth strokes. Replace
your toothbrush when it's worn or frayed about every 3 or 4 months, experts say. You
should also get a new toothbrush after you have had a cold, strep throat, or similar
Don't cover your toothbrush or store it in a closed container. This can encourage
growth of microorganisms.
Floss with care
Flossing helps to remove plaque and food particles that are stuck between your teeth
and under your gums. To floss correctly:
Cut off about 18 inches of floss and hold it tightly between your thumbs and forefingers.
Place it between your teeth and gently slide it up and down.
When the floss reaches the gum line, curve it around 1 tooth in a C shape. Gently
rub the side of the tooth, moving the floss with up-and-down motions, making sure
to go below the gumline. Repeat this method on the rest of your teeth. Remember to
floss the back side of your back teeth.
Watch what you eat
The foods you eat help lead to tooth decay when they combine with bacteria in your
mouth. To protect your teeth:
Have plenty of calcium-rich foods, such as milk, yogurt, cheese, canned fish, almonds,
beans, green leafy vegetables, and calcium-fortified orange juice. Calcium maintains
the bone the tooth roots are embedded in. This is particularly important for older
adults and for children during development of both baby and adult teeth.
Limit sugary foods and drinks. Stay away from sticky sweets, such as soft candies,
toffees, taffies, and pastries. If you eat sweets, rinse your mouth with water afterward.
Or brush your teeth if you have a chance.
If you chew gum, chew sugar-free brands.