The good news about gum disease is the simplicity of preventive care for most people. The best way to avoid gum disease is to follow the same measures you take to avoid cavities: brush your teeth with fluoride toothpaste twice daily, floss every day, maintain a healthy diet, avoid tobacco use, and have your teeth professionally cleaned on a regular schedule.
Your dentist may recommend twice-yearly or more frequent checkups depending on the state of your oral health. Even with daily home care, plaque can build up and harden into a substance called calculus, commonly known as "tartar." In this state, only a dental professional can remove it.
In the early stage of gingivitis (inflamed and bleeding gums), it's possible to eliminate the disease by increasing the level of oral care. But it's important to catch the disease as early as possible. Regular dental checkups are vital, as is an awareness of the warning signs of gum disease. If gingivitis progresses to periodontitis, which affects the jaw bone, serious problems, including tooth loss, can occur.
Risk Factors for Gum Disease
A lack of good oral hygiene is a primary cause of gum disease. However, other circumstances can increase your chances of experiencing gum disease. Following are additional risk factors that you may be able to control to reduce your chance of developing gingivitis or periodontitis.
Smoking and Tobacco Use
It's long been established that smoking and tobacco use (cigarettes, cigars, pipes, chewing tobacco) increase the risk of cancer, lung disease, heart disease, and other serious health problems. It is also a recognized risk factor for gum disease. Not only does tobacco use increase the occurrence of gum disease, it can also hinder the healing process by decreasing your ability to fight infection in your gums.
A diet lacking in vitamins and minerals makes it more difficult for your immune system to fight infection. Too many sugary foods and carbohydrates increase the production of plaque, which is the underlying cause of gum disease.
Family History (Genetics)
You have a higher likelihood of developing gum disease if it runs in your family. According to the American Academy of Periodontology, up to 30% of the population may be genetically predisposed to periodontal disease. If your close family members have gum disease, be extremely diligent in your home care and your dental visits.
Women experience hormonal fluctuations during puberty, pregnancy, and menopause, which can affect tissues in the body, including gums. Increased sensitivity in the gums can create a higher susceptibility to gum disease. Pay special attention to daily oral care and make regular visits to the dentist.
No matter what the cause (work, finances, depression, etc.), living in a state of stress can make it difficult for the body to fight off infection, including gingivitis and periodontitis. Stress is also a contributing factor to teeth grinding and clenching, which can accelerate the rate of tissue damage with gum disease.
Some drugs - including certain types of antidepressants, heart medications, anticonvulsants, steroids, chemotherapy, oral contraceptives, and other medications - can affect your oral health. Drugs that lessen the flow of saliva can leave your teeth less protected than normal and drugs that cause abnormal tissue growth can have an adverse effect on your gums. Be sure your dentist is aware of any medications you are taking.
Any illness that interferes with the immune system's ability to fight infection - such as diabetes, leukemia, or AIDS - can leave you more susceptible to gum disease. Additionally, uncontrolled diabetes can increase your risk for gum disease, and gum disease may decrease your ability to control your diabetes. Take special care to brush and floss daily and make regular visits to the dentist.