Gums

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Keeping your gums healthy and disease-free is a vital component of oral health. The good news is that gum conditions and diseases are often preventable. This section provides you with tips to add to your daily routine to help you maintain good oral health.

If you have symptoms of gum disease such as painful, swollen or bleeding gums, it’s important to see your dentist. He or she will be able to confirm whether you have gum disease and provide necessary treatment. See the page Diagnosing Gum Disease to learn about the methods used to detect gum disease.

Depending on its severity, there are several ways to treat gum disease. The main goal of treatment is to control the infection and thoroughly clean the pockets of bacteria to prevent more damage. Treatment may include surgical or non-surgical methods. 

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Gum conditions and diseases are often preventable. Adding these habits to your daily routine will help you maintain good oral health:

  • Brush your teeth twice a day: Brush in the morning and before bedtime using fluoride toothpaste. Don’t forget to also include your tongue to help remove additional bacteria. Brushing after meals helps remove food debris and plaque trapped between your teeth and gums. If you can't brush after a meal, chew sugar-free gum instead.
  • Floss daily: Flossing at least once a day helps remove food particles and plaque between teeth and along the gum line that your toothbrush can’t quite reach. Curve the floss around each tooth into a U-shape, and gently slide it under the gum line. Move the floss firmly up and down several times to scrape off the plaque.
  • Swish with mouthwash: Use an antiseptic mouthwash such as Listerine, or a fluoride or anti-plaque mouthwash. This can help reduce plaque and remove remaining food particles that brushing and flossing missed.
  • See your dentist regularly: Visit the dentist routinely for a check-up and professional cleaning. Identifying symptoms of gum disease early is key to protecting your teeth and gums.
  • Eat healthy: A well-balanced and nutritious diet that includes plenty of whole grains, vegetables, and fruits is important for good oral health. Limit between-meal snacks and avoid foods that contain a lot of sugar, especially sticky, sweet foods like lollies and raisins. It is also important to drink lots of water to increase saliva and help flush away plaque.
  • Don’t smoke: According to the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, smoking is a main risk factor for periodontal (gum) disease. For smokers, quitting is one of the most important steps toward regaining gum health.
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If you have symptoms of gum disease such as painful, swollen or bleeding gums, it’s important to see your dentist. He or she will be able to confirm whether you have gum disease and provide necessary treatment. The following methods are often used to diagnose gum disease:

  • Physical examination of gums and teeth: Your dentist will look for signs of gum disease such as red, swollen, or bleeding gums. The teeth are checked for movement and sensitivity. Teeth that have become sensitive around the gum line may indicate areas of receding gums.
  • X-rays: Full-mouth x-rays can help detect breakdown of bone surrounding your teeth. X-rays can show the level of the underlying bone and whether any bone has been lost to gum disease.
  • Measuring the gums: Your dentist may use a periodontal probe to measure the depths of the pockets around all of the teeth in the mouth. A probe is like a tiny ruler that is gently inserted into pockets around teeth. In healthy gums, the pockets measure less than 3 millimetres deep. Beyond that, the deeper the pockets, the more severe the disease. Pockets that are 5 millimetres or deeper indicate a serious condition that usually includes receding gums and a greater degree of bone loss.

Following the evaluation, your dentist will recommend treatment options. Methods used to treat gum disease vary and are based on the stage of the disease.

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Depending on its severity, there are several ways to treat gum disease. Treatment may be performed by a periodontist (specialist in treating periodontal disease), dentist or dental hygienist. The main goal of treatment is to control the infection and thoroughly clean the pockets of bacteria to prevent more damage.

Non-surgical treatments

If your gum disease isn't advanced, treatment can include less invasive procedures, including:

  • Scaling and root planing: The dentist, periodontist, or dental hygienist removes the plaque through a deep-cleaning method called scaling and root planing. Scaling means scraping off tartar and bacteria from your tooth surfaces and beneath your gums. Root planing smoothes the root surfaces, discouraging further buildup of tartar.
  • Antibiotics: According to Mayo Clinic , the use of antibiotics to treat gum disease remains open to debate. Topical antibiotics are generally the treatment of choice. They can include antibiotic mouth rinses or insertion of threads and gels containing antibiotics in the space between your teeth and gums or into pockets after deep cleaning. However, oral antibiotics may be necessary to completely eliminate infection-causing bacteria.

Surgical treatments

Depending on how far the disease has progressed, surgical treatment might be necessary. This may include:

  • Flap surgery: In this procedure, your periodontist makes tiny incisions in your gum so that a section of gum tissue can be lifted back to make it easier for the patient, dentist or hygienist to remove the tartar and keep the area clean. The gums are then sutured back in place so that the tissue fits snugly around the tooth again. The procedure generally takes from one to three hours and is performed under local anesthesia.
  • Bone and Tissue Grafts: These procedures help to regenerate any bone or gum tissue lost to periodontitis. Bone grafting, in which natural or synthetic bone is placed in the area of bone loss, can help promote bone growth. The bone graft also helps prevent tooth loss by holding your tooth in place. In cases where gum tissue has been lost, your dentist, dental hygienist or periodontist may suggest a soft tissue graft, in which synthetic material or tissue taken from another area of your mouth is attached to the affected site. This procedure can help reduce further gum recession, cover exposed roots and give your teeth a more cosmetically pleasing appearance.
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