After all, what’s the point of having a bright smile if your gums recede or bleed?
Why are Healthy Gums Important?
When you grin at yourself in the mirror you’re probably only looking at your teeth, but you are missing a bigger part of the picture and that is your gums.
Most people overlook the need for healthy gums, so I’d like to talk a little bit about your gum tissue and the need to keep it healthy.
Healthy gums are designed to support your teeth and to fit snugly around the teeth, protecting the periodontal ligaments holding your teeth in position, and the supporting bone from infection.
If your gums become infected and inflamed then there is the risk that your teeth will become loose. This is because the gum tissues won’t be able to support and protect your teeth, the ligaments holding them in place, or the bone surrounding your teeth.
The Connection Between Healthy Gums and General Health
Healthy gums act as a barrier between bacteria in your mouth and the rest of you, and prevent these harmful bacteria from entering your body.
Without this barrier these bacteria will be able to enter your bloodstream and could affect your overall health. Advanced gum disease has been linked with many serious health conditions, including diabetes and heart disease.
If you wish to enjoy good general health, it is vitally important that you look after your oral health, and that you do everything possible to keep your gums in the pink.
What Do Healthy Gums Look Like?
Healthy gums should be firm to the touch and will be pink or coral in color, but the exact shade can vary considerably from person to person. If you look closely you might notice they look slightly stippled or have an appearance like an orange peel.
Another example of gum variation is African Americans often have darker gums. This is not due to poor oral hygiene. It’s because of the melanin that also causes the skin to be darker.
Now, with regards to healthy gums, there should be no visible pockets at the junction of the gum and tooth, an area that is called the gum margin, and the gum tissue should extend right up in between each tooth, reaching a point so there are no visible gaps in between each tooth. These little triangles of tissue are called the papillae.
Healthy gums will form a good seal at the gum margin so no bacteria are able to penetrate this area. You might notice a slight indentation or crevice at the gum margin, and this is called the sulcus. A healthy sulcus will have a depth of between zero and 3 mm and will not look infected or inflamed in any way.
Signs of Unhealthy Gums
- If your gums have become infected or inflamed then you may notice some of the following signs appearing:
- Your gum tissue may appear darker in color than before
- Your gums might appear swollen, and they may feel tender or sore to the touch, or slightly squashy
- You may notice blood on your toothbrush or that your gums begin to bleed when you floss them
- Your teeth could look longer than before as the infected and inflamed gums begin to recede due to the destruction of the gum tissues
- You may develop bad breath due to build-up of bacteria and infection in your mouth
If you do notice any of these signs, then I suggest you make an appointment to visit your dentist, especially if you haven’t had a check-up in a while. This is because you could have gum disease, and this condition is far easier to treat if caught early.
Gum disease is a bacterial infection that is likely to affect most of the population to some degree, at some stage during their lifetime. Gum disease is the main reason teeth are lost, and it’s important to take it seriously and to act quickly.
What Causes Gum Disease?
Everyone’s mouth contains bacteria, some of which are harmful while others are benign. During the course of the day you’ll probably notice a sticky film develops over your teeth and gums, and this is made up of plaque bacteria. These bacteria need to be removed through regular brushing and flossing as they produce toxins that irritate the gums.
If this layer of plaque is not removed then it will soon harden into something called calculus or tartar. This can only be removed by your dentist or hygienist, and its presence will continue to cause irritation.
The body’s response to the presence of plaque and tartar is to produce antibodies to fight the bacteria, and this results inflammation in the gums. Inflammation is responsible for much of the destruction caused by gum disease.
The early stage of gum disease is called gingivitis, and is characterized by gums that bleed when brushed and flossed, and which have changed color or become swollen and tender. These early signs are easy to miss or to ignore, but if you can, try to catch this condition early.
The Progression of Gum Disease: Periodontal Disease
If the disease is left to progress then it will develop into a condition called periodontal disease. This affects the periodontium which are all the tissues supporting your teeth, including the gums, the periodontal ligaments, the bony sockets which consist of a special type of bone called the alveolar bone, and the cementum.
The cementum is the layer of material covering the roots of your teeth, and the periodontal ligaments are attached to the cementum and to the alveolar bone, holding the teeth firmly in position in the sockets.
Periodontal disease will cause the infected and inflamed gums to begin pulling away from the teeth as the gum tissue is destroyed and recedes. This creates deep pockets around the teeth that will become filled with bacteria and pus.
By this stage the gums are likely to be bleeding quite frequently, and the bacteria will be able to enter your bloodstream through these open wounds.
The infection and inflammation in your gums will begin to destroy the periodontal ligaments holding the teeth in place, and you may notice your teeth begin to feel loose or wobbly or that they meet together slightly differently as the teeth begin to move around.
Eventually the disease will begin to destroy the alveolar bone, and it is likely the teeth will need extracting.
You don’t need to let it get to this stage, as gum disease can be treated, and if it is caught early enough then it can even be cured.
How Gum Disease is Treated
Treatment for gum disease will largely depend on how soon you seek treatment. Your dentist will want to give you a full assessment, and will check the depths of any pockets that have formed around your teeth.
They may also want to take x-rays to see if the disease has destroyed any of the bone supporting your teeth. The idea of treatment is to help remove the infection and inflammation, and to reduce the size of any pockets, enabling the periodontium to heal.
The early stages of gum disease or gingivitis are quite easy to treat. It’s likely your dentist will recommend you have your teeth and gums professionally cleaned.
This will remove the buildup of tartar from your teeth, getting rid of much of the infection and inflammation. Afterwards it’s important that you look after your teeth at home, and that you brush and floss them extremely carefully to ensure all the plaque is removed.
It’s likely your gums will bleed, but it’s important to persevere as they will gradually stop bleeding as they return to health. You will need to keep up this regime to ensure the disease doesn’t return.
If you have more extensive signs of gum disease then your dentist may recommend a process called scaling and root planing as this deep cleans the teeth and gums.
Your teeth will be scaled to remove the build-up of tartar right down to just below the gum margin, and the exposed root surfaces of your teeth will be carefully smoothed. Smoothing your root surfaces will make it much harder for the bacteria to stick to them.
At this stage your dentist may choose to place medication topically into the gum pockets to help eliminate any remaining bacteria. This process helps to remove the infection and inflammation in your gums and is very effective if the pockets around your gums don’t exceed depths of approximately 5 mm.
More extensive treatment may be necessary if you have extremely deep pockets or if tissue has been destroyed, and this may mean you will be referred to a periodontist, a dentist that specializes in treating gum disease. Treatment can involve the following surgical procedures:
- Pocket depth reduction or flap surgery is a surgical process designed to reduce or eliminate the pockets around your teeth. This is where the infected gum tissue is folded back so the harmful bacteria and tartar can be removed from the pockets. Afterwards the gum tissue is placed over the tooth roots and is secured in place to help eliminate or shrink the pockets.
- Regeneration. If you have suffered bone loss as a result of this disease then you may require a procedure to help replace lost tissue and bone. The procedure is similar to pocket depth reduction, as your pockets will be folded back and cleaned out before a regenerative material is placed into the gum area. This might be some sort of tissue stimulating protein, graft tissue, or a special type of membrane, and is designed to help your body regenerate the lost tissue in the areas required. Once the procedure is complete, your gum tissue will be secured over the roots of your teeth.
- Soft tissue graft. This may be required if you have lost an extensive amount of gum tissue, and the graft is normally harvested from another area in your mouth. The procedure may leave you feeling a bit sore, but does mean there is little risk of rejection.
The early signs and symptoms of gum disease are easily cured, but if the disease has become chronic then you may require regular treatment to halt its progression rather than cure it completely.
A well-balanced diet that is rich in vitamins is essential for healthy gums. Eating foods containing vitamins A, B, C, D and K will help provide your gums with the nutrients necessary to fight gum disease.
- Vitamin A can help gum tissue to heal, and will boost your immune system.
- Vitamin B is important for the production of iron for healthy blood, and helps tissue to grow.
- Vitamin C is important for making collagen which is found in the periodontal ligaments in your gums.
- Vitamin D is also called the sunshine vitamin, and a deficiency in this vitamin could lead to bone loss, as it is able to absorb calcium. It is also thought this vitamin is useful in supporting the immune system, and in reducing inflammation.
- Vitamin K is important for helping the blood to clot, and your gums are more likely to bleed if you don’t receive sufficient quantities of this vitamin.
- Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) is a supplement that has been extensively studied, as it is a powerful antioxidant and helps to improve energy production in cells. Early research has shown this supplement might be useful in helping gums to heal, and clinical studies have shown people with periodontal disease tend to have lower levels of CoQ10 in their gum tissues.
Most people will be able to obtain sufficient quantities of vitamins through eating a healthy and varied diet, but others may require supplements.
If you are concerned your diet doesn’t contain enough vitamins to sustain healthy gums, then it is best to ask your physician for advice. Vitamin supplements can be extremely useful, but it is important to ensure you do not exceed the recommended dosage as this could be harmful.
Healthy gums require a combination of professional oral care, daily dental care at home, and a healthy diet. They will reward you by keeping your teeth right where they should be, so you can smile with confidence.
Got Itchy or Achy Gums?
Here’s an article that addresses less common reasons for gum discomfort.