Healthy gums and the importance of flossing

Maintaining healthy gums is an essential part of good oral health. While most people brush their teeth regularly, it is not uncommon for people to have a more casual approach to flossing. This is unfortunate because flossing is the most effective way to prevent gum disease, and decay between teeth, helping to keep your smile looking good.

What causes gum disease?

Gum disease is caused by plaque on your teeth and beneath the gums. When the bacteria in your mouth combines with saliva and food particles, the result is sticky plaque that clings to the teeth, particularly around the gum line. If plaque is not removed, it will cause gums to become red and swollen (signs of inflammation), possibly also resulting in tooth decay and further irritating gums.

Cleaning your teeth with a toothbrush will remove plaque from the surface of teeth but there are a lot of nooks and crannies that a toothbrush will miss. Flossing reaches those hard-to-get areas between teeth and removes the accumulation of plaque along the gum line. This is why flossing is so important in maintaining healthy gums.

Stages of gum disease

Keeping your gums healthy will not only keep your smile looking good but may improve your overall health. Gum disease can increase your risk of such serious conditions as heart disease, and respiratory infections.

There are two main stages of gum disease – gingivitis and periodontitis.

Gingivitis is an early stage of gum disease. It is characterised by redness, swelling and irritation of the gums. One of the common signs that you are suffering from gingivitis is bleeding gums after brushing. It can also cause gums to recede from the teeth causing plaque to collect on the exposed root surfaces of teeth. This can lead to bad breath, exacerbation of the problem, and further complications.

Periodonditis is advanced gum disease that occurs if gingivitis is left untreated. It is a serious condition affecting the tissues and bone that support the tooth. When gingivitis is left untreated, the gum pulls away from the tooth, opening up pockets in the gums. These pockets become a breeding ground for bacteria that attack the soft tissue around the tooth and, eventually, the bone. Teeth will start to loosen in the mouth and may even fall out.

Treatments for gum disease

Gingivitis can be treated fairly simply. A good place to start is with a professional cleaning by your dentist or oral hygienist. Follow this up with improved oral hygiene habits including regular brushing and flossing. A healthy diet will also help reduce the chance of recurrence.

Periodonditis also needs a professional clean, which includes deep scaling and root planning to clean between the gums and teeth down the roots. In severe cases, surgery may be required to remove all bacteria. Occasionally, soft tissue grafts are required. After treatment, an improved oral hygiene regimen is essential.

How do I prevent gum disease?

The best way to prevent gum disease is pretty simple – clean your teeth twice a day and floss daily. Brush the teeth for two to three minutes at a time and ensure the head of the toothbrush moves along the gum line pointing towards the gum so that bristles work their way beneath the gums. Also, it’s worth using a mouthwash as a final step in the process.

There are also some lifestyle choices that can help prevent gum disease – don’t smoke, don’t overdo alcohol, choose a healthy diet with minimal sugar, and exercise daily.

Of course, visiting the dentist twice a year for a check-up is the best way to identify any problems. Include a professional clean during your visit to keep your gums healthy and to remove any plaque building up on your teeth.
Your dentist would also be happy to show you the correct way to brush and floss your teeth.