October is National Dental Hygiene Month, and there’s no better time to brush up on your dental hygiene practices. But good oral health habits aren’t something you should only focus on during the month of October.
The benefits of good dental hygiene extend way beyond just clean teeth and fresh breath. Taking care of your teeth regularly can help prevent gum disease, also known as periodontitis or periodontal disease, a potentially serious oral health issue that at its most severe can lead to tooth loss and a whole host of chronic diseases and health problems.
The good news is that periodontal disease is preventable, and in its earliest stages it can be easily reversed through proper dental hygiene.
What is gum disease?
Gum disease occurs when the gum tissue surrounding your teeth becomes infected. It’s typically the result not brushing or flossing regularly or properly — in other words, poor dental hygiene. When you don’t brush and floss as often as you should, bacteria from the food you eat build up in your mouth. Smoking can also contribute to gum disease.
This bacteria buildup eventually turns into plaque (a sticky substance) and eventually tartar, which can be very difficult to remove from your gums. Symptoms of gum disease include:
- Chronic bad breath
- Sore, red, or swollen gums
- Bleeding or inflamed gums
- Sensitive teeth
- Receding gums
In severe cases of gum disease, the receding gums form pockets that pull away from your teeth and become infected. Eventually, the tissues keeping your teeth in place are destroyed, and your teeth become loose and eventually fall out.
How gum disease leads to other health problems
Studies have found that the consequences of poor dental hygiene habits that lead to gum disease are not confined to your mouth. Gum disease has been linked to numerous other health conditions such as heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease, stroke, respiratory disease, and certain cancers.
While the connection between gum disease and many of these health conditions is not clearly established, many researchers suspect that the bacteria enter the blood system, travel to other parts of the body, and cause inflammation. Inflammation is a significant risk factor for many health conditions.
Good dental hygiene: Ways to prevent and treat gum disease
The good news is that catching gum disease in its earliest stages can help prevent it from advancing. Good dental hygiene is your best defense against gum disease as well as your best way to treat it. Healthy practices include:
- Brushing your teeth at least twice a day, as well as brushing your tongue
- Flossing at least once a day to remove food particles and plaque that don’t rinse away after brushing
- Using mouthwash to help reduce plaque and remove food particles that brushing and flossing can’t reach
- Quitting smoking, if applicable
- Eating a healthy, balanced, low-sugar diet
- Seeing your dentist regularly for professional teeth cleaning to get rid of the plaque that regular brushing and flossing have missed
For more information on preventing and treating gum disease, call Dr. Scott Young at his practice in The Woodlands, Texas, or book an appointment online.