How to Keep Your Gums and Teeth Healthy
Brushing and flossing your teeth isn't hard to do. And doing both properly 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 and is mostly comprised of bacteria, mucus, food, and other
particles. When plaque is not 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, which is known as gingivitis. Tartar can
only be removed by a dental hygienist or dentist.
Gum disease has 3 stages:
Gingivitis. This early stage is characterized by red, swollen, tender gums that bleed easily. If
caught early, the condition can often be reversed on its own with proper brushing
Mild to moderate periodontitis. The next stage is characterized by 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 loss of bone around the teeth
may be evident. Treatment at this stage is critical to prevent further loss of bone
and loosening of teeth.
Advanced periodontitis. This is characterized by further deepening of gum pockets 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.
Signs and symptoms of periodontal disease usually appear when the condition is advanced.
Signs and symptoms are:
Bad breath that lasts
Red, swollen, tender gums
Receding gums (gums that pull away from the teeth)
Pain when chewing
Loose or sensitive teeth
The following factors put a person at more risk for developing gum disease:
Good oral hygiene like 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:
Do so 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.
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
Do not cover your toothbrush or store it in a closed container that 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 properly:
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. 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, remembering to floss the back
side of your back teeth.
Watch what you eat
The foods you eat contribute to tooth decay when they combine with bacteria in your
mouth. To protect your teeth:
Consume plenty of calcium-rich foods like milk, yogurt, and cheese. Calcium maintains
the bone the tooth roots are embedded in. This is particularly important for the
elderly and for children during development of both baby and adult teeth.
Avoid sticky sweets, like 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.