Good oral and dental health are not just about a healthy set of teeth. It is pretty common to see people attaching more importance to their teeth than to their gums. But healthy gums are equally important to maintain good oral health.
Gums are the soft tissue that strongly binds the teeth to the bones of the jaw. They have within them the nerves and blood vessels of our mouth. Besides being a crucial binding and protective layer, healthy gums also add to the aesthetics of the smile.
What is healthy gum?
This is a tricky question because gum diseases are tough to spot. Often left unnoticed due to the absence of pain, gum diseases end up being identified much later in the progression of the disease.
So how does one avoid this mishap? To start with, a healthy gum would be firm and pink. Therefore, it’s a good idea to examine them periodically in the mirror. Secondly, a periodic check-up at the dentist would help identify any gum diseases before they become serious.
Let us also understand what it means to have unhealthy gums. Gum diseases are often the result of plaque building up. Plaque contains bacteria that can infect the gum and the bone. It can also lead to dental issues like tooth decay. That being said, you can closely observe your gum’s colour, texture, and structure to figure out if something is wrong.
When should I be alarmed?
Bleeding is one of the most common and noticeable indicators of bad gums. Bleeding upon brushing or chewing is a red flag you must get addressed at the earliest. Other subtle clues like swelling, redness and tenderness of the gum also point towards unhealthy gums.
Bad breath is another indicator of bad oral health, specifically gum-related diseases. This is because the presence of bacterial infection causes most gum diseases. These bacteria that thrive in the mouth release certain strong odorous chemicals like sulphur compounds, resulting in bad breath. So, persisting bad breath is something you should not ignore.
Changes concerning the teeth can also be reasons for gum diseases. That is, loose teeth, shifting teeth, pockets between teeth and gum, receding gum, or changes in bite (change in the way the teeth fit together) are not to be misread as just tooth issues.
There are two kinds of gum disease that you should be aware of. They vary in terms of their level of intensity. Gingivitis is a rather early-stage gum disease that often presents with inflammation of the gums. Periodontitis is a more intense gum issue that may (or may not) be a worsened case of gingivitis. Let us look at both of them separately so that we do not mix one with the other.
Gingivitis is a very common condition that all of us might go through at some point in life. Although it varies in severity, it is easy to treat when caught early. Technically, gingivitis is the inflammation of the gums. It mostly begins when you decide not to brush or floss.
Without proper oral hygiene, plaque develops on the enamel of the teeth. Plaque is a sticky layer of bacteria which goes on to interact with the residue food particles in the mouth.
Prolonged interaction coupled with absent oral care (for almost 72 hours) results in the formulation of tartar. This tartar sticks to the gum lining, making it more difficult to clean your teeth at home. So, your gum swells up, and you might experience slight irritation.
In the case of gingivitis, there is no lasting damage inflicted on the bones or the tissues owing to the localised location of the infection only on the gum lining. But as this infection progresses, it becomes what is known as periodontitis. It is more severe due to the damage it can inflict on the gums and bones.
In this condition, a small part of the gum and the bone moves away from the teeth resulting in a small pocket or gap. This gap gets accumulated with food debris, bacteria and plaque. Further, the enzymes that our bodies produce start interacting with these bacteria, resulting in the formation of certain toxins. These toxins poison the bone or the connecting tissue and cause them to break.
As the pockets deepen, more and more tissue and bone get lost, and the worst-case scenario results in the falling out of the respective tooth.
How are gum diseases treated?
The treatments for gum diseases vary depending on the severity of the infection. In the early stages (like gingivitis), non-surgical treatment like a dental or deep cleaning to remove plaque or tartar could be enough. For more complicated pockets of infection, surgical treatments like bone or soft tissue grafts, pocket reduction surgery, guided tissue regeneration process may be implemented. This can be coupled with the prescription of a good antiseptic mouthwash and maybe additional treatment with antibiotics.
Why is your gum unhealthy?
Your oral health is also dependent on your overall health condition and medications. Health conditions that affect the immune system can affect your oral health as well since the ability to fight off bacteria is reduced. Further, diabetic patients also have an increased chance of contracting such oral infections. Certain medications can also affect saliva production, leading to lesser protection for gums and increasing the likelihood of gum diseases.
Genetics can also be the reason why you have weak teeth and gums. Also, hormonal changes in women during pregnancy, menstruation and menopause can weaken the gum tissues and make them more prone to diseases. Additionally, any pre-existing dental fillings gone bad can cause gum infections.
Let’s not forget that your lifestyle habits can have an equally strong effect on your oral health. Not brushing and flossing at proper intervals can be no good. Also, smoking tampers with the ability of the gum to repair itself. A stressful life can give your gums a tough time too.
How can you take care of your gums?
Prevention is always better than cure! That being said, step one for preventing is practising good oral care. Brushing, flossing, and good mouthwash keeps your mouth clean and healthy. Fixing regular appointments with your dentist can help identify a gum disease at its earliest stages and treat them without any complications.