When you think of your oral health, you probably think of pearly, healthy, white teeth. However, your gums are just as important as your teeth but easier to overlook. While not an inevitable part of aging, many Americans develop gum disease and related issues as they age. If you would like to know more about your gums, keep reading.
Your gums serve as protection and support for your teeth. The tooth's crown, which sits above the gumline is protected with hard enamel, but the tooth's root has no enamel. Instead, the gums protect the roots. At the same time, the gums and ligaments in the gums hold the teeth in place so they can withstand the pressures of chewing and grinding food.
Without good gum protection, bad bacteria can sneak under the gumline to attack the tooth's roots. This can lead to severe decay, but it can also cause the teeth to become loose.
The color of your gums often depends on the color of your skin. Healthy gums of lighter skinned people tend to be light pink, but people with darker skin colors may have naturally darker gums. Typically, if your gums suddenly look paler or darker than average, something is wrong.
Healthy gums also have a different texture than unhealthy gums. Healthy gums are typically firm and don't move around when you touch them. Unhealthy gums, however, are swollen and tender. Plus, the gum tissue easily moves with pushed around.
Healthy gums should also sit flush against the teeth, but if the gums become irritated or infected, they can start to pull away from the teeth, leading to receding gums, which exposes roots. Other signs that your gums are unhealthy include bleeding, gum abscess, loose teeth, and jaw pain.
Luckily, there are many ways you can keep your gums healthy. First, get into a habit of brushing and flossing regularly. However, don't brush or floss aggressively as that can irritate the gums more. You should also see your dentist regularly for general cleanings and examinations.
When it comes to your diet, avoid foods that promote bacteria like sugar and carbohydrates. In addition, limit hard food like ice and acidic foods like wine and coffee. If you smoke, stop immediately. Smoking drastically impacts your gums by hindering their ability to heal.
Finally, keeping your gums healthy isn't just about keeping your mouth clean. Your oral health is largely connected to the rest of your health, and many conditions can increase your risk of gum disease. Disease like diabetes and HIV can affect your body's natural ability to heal itself. You'll want to get these diseases under control to help promote better gum health.
If you neglect your gums for too long, you can develop gum disease. At first, gingivitis causes little problems. You may see blood when you brush or floss, and your gums may feel a little tender. In some cases, you may not even realize you have gingivitis. At this stage, the condition can easily be treated because the symptoms are minimal. Curing the gum infection usually allows the gums to revert to normal on their own.
If the infection advances to periodontal disease, however, the symptoms become more severe, and they will not revert on their own after you've gotten rid of the gum infection. You may need additional treatments to recover from the effects of periodontal disease. These include bone grafts, gum grafts, and gum surgery to reposition the gums.
Your gums are an important part of your oral and overall health. However, they are also easy to ignore. Even if you have no symptoms yet, you may be heading down the path toward gingivitis.