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How to keep your gums healthy

Keeping your gums healthy is important for maintaining oral health and preventing tooth loss, and to optimise overall health and wellbeing. That being said, one in five Australian adults 15 years and over have gingivitis – inflammation of the gums. In many cases, gingivitis shows only the early signs of a silently progressive disease that may lead to tooth loss. In this blog we will discuss what gum disease entails and how to prevent it.

What is gum disease?

Gum disease, also known as periodontal disease, is a condition affecting the structures that support teeth, namely gums and bone amongst other tissues. This is caused by bacteria building up on the gumline as part of plaque, which then secrete substances that initiate an inflammatory response by the gums and bone surrounding the tooth. Long-standing plaque can harden to become calculus or tartar which bind firmly to the tooth – these build ups can harbour plaque more easily, thus increasing the risk of inflammation.

As part of the inflammatory process, the gums become red and swollen. They tend to bleed more easily and be more tender to touch, both of which can be evident during brushing and/or flossing. If left unmanaged, gingivitis can progress to periodontitis which refers to loss of the supporting bone. As a result, pockets may form, the gums will shrink, and the teeth being supported may become loose and mobile.

Eventually, these teeth may be lost. Bone loss from chronic periodontitis is irreversible, so is cumulative over time – as a result, its prevalence increases with age. In those aged 15-34, 7.4% had periodontitis while 61% of those 75 and over were affected.

How gum disease can affect your overall health?

Gum disease is associated with other diseases in the body, such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes. This occurs in a “bi-directional” manner, where the presence of one worsens the other; and likewise, if one condition improves so too will the other.

Once there is inflammation at the gums and supporting structures, pro-inflammatory cells begin circulating throughout the whole vascular system which encourages the formation of blood clots.

Similarly, this increase in pro-inflammatory markers in the circulation can lead to reduced metabolic regulation and increased insulin resistance, ultimately worsening blood sugar levels and diabetic control.

By maintaining good gum health, your overall wellbeing will be optimised.

How you can achieve health gums

To achieve healthy gums, a regular oral hygiene routine is important. Through brushing twice a day for two minutes at a time, and cleaning in between the teeth every night (such as with flossing), plaque around the gumline is removed. This reduces the bacterial load and so the inflammatory response that leads to gum disease.

Also important is going to regular check ups with your dentist. This is to rule out any factors that may be attracting plaque, such as faulty fillings or cavities; and other issues that may increase the risk of gum disease. Regular cleans are necessary to remove tartar that may have built up along the gumline and so will allow the gums to heal and for you to maintain their health at home.

Keeping your gums free of gum disease is important in the health of your teeth and overall wellbeing. Regular oral hygiene practises and visits to the dentist are paramount in keeping your oral heath in its best shape – it’s never too late to start!

Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. (2019). Oral health and dental care in Australia. Retrieved from https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/dental-oral-health/oral-health-and-dental-care-in-australia/contents/healthy-mouths

Hegde, R., & Awan, K. (2019). Effects of periodontal disease on systemic health. Disease-a-Month, 65(6), 185-192.

InformedHealth.org [Internet]. Cologne, Germany: Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care (IQWiG); 2006-. Gingivitis and periodontitis: Overview. [Updated 2020 Feb 27]. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK279593/

Manton DJ, Foley M, Gikas A, Ivanoski S, McCullough M, Peres MA, Roberts-Thomson K, Skinner J, Irving E, Seselja A, Calder R, Harris B, Lindberg R, Millar L, Nichols T. (2018). Australia’s Oral Health Tracker: Technical Paper, Australian Health Policy Collaboration, Victoria University, Melbourne.

National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research. (2018). Periodontal (Gum) Disease. Retrieved from https://www.nidcr.nih.gov/health-info/gum-disease/more-info

Page, R.C. (1986), Gingivitis*. Journal of Clinical Periodontology, 13: 345-355. doi:10.1111/j.1600-051X.1986.tb01471.x

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