How to Get Healthy Gums: The Path to a Beautiful Smile

A woman with very healthy gums and teeth, biting into a fresh apple.

Did you know that over 50% of Americans over the age of 13 show early signs of gum disease? This dramatically increases your risk of tooth decay and eventual tooth loss if not treated.

There really is no reason for the statistics to be this high considering that gum disease is easily preventable. Yes, everyone knows to brush twice a day, floss and visit their dentist at least once a year.

However, most people neglect these fundamental hygiene basics and believe that as long as there is no pain that everything must be okay. By the time they realize something is wrong, the gum disease has already reached an advanced stage that will require lengthy and costly surgical operations.

a woman touching her face in pain due to her toothache.

Gum Disease Symptoms

There are telltale clues that your teeth may be experiencing early stages of gum disease. Notify your dentist immediately if you notice any of the following symptoms on a recurring basis:

  • Bad breath that doesn’t go away even with brushing and rinsing
  • Red or swollen gums
  • Gums that easily bleed during brushing or rinsing
  • Gums that recede from the teeth, causing the teeth to appear longer
  • Pain during eating or drinking
  • The formation of pus between the teeth and gums

A smiling woman with very healthy gums and teeth.

Risk Factors

Some people are more prone to gum disease due to genetics. This is especially the case if there is a history of gum disease that runs in the family. However, there are also multiple lifestyle habits that put you at greater risk for developing oral-related diseases. Among them include the following:

  • Several prescribed and over-the-counter medications, such as heart medication, contraceptives and anti-depressants can reduce the flow of saliva, which serves as a layer of protective coating for the mouth. The lack of saliva leaves the tooth and gums susceptible to infection.
  • It is already a given that smoking is bad for your heart and lungs. It also happens to be one of the most significant risk factors for developing gum disease.
  • Studies have shown that stress releases hormones that make it harder for the body to fight off numerous cancers, including periodontal disease.
  • A poor diet can deprive your body of the nutrition needed to fight off infection. Research has also linked obesity to gum disease.

A smiling woman about to brush her teeth

Brushing Your Teeth the Right Way

Brushing your teeth is such an ingrained habit that it’s almost done on auto pilot without giving it second thought. This, however, can lead to sloppy brushing techniques, thus increasing your risk of developing gum disease and cavities.

Retraining the way you brush will lead to better long-term brushing habits. For starters, consider the following:

  • Choose a brush with the right bristles. Bristles that are too firm can aggravate the gums; at the same time though, bristles that are too soft may not adequately remove plaque. Most dentists recommend opting for a toothbrush with bristles labeled “medium”.
  • While brushing twice a day is considered the norm, it is more of a minimum. Brushing three times a day is optimal, and each brushing should last between two to three minutes. A good technique is to divide the teeth into quadrants and spend 30 to 45 seconds on each quadrant.
  • While brushing three times a day is better than twice a day, this does not mean that brushing four times or even more is better. Excessive brushing can cause enamel erosion and undue irritation on the gums.
  • Brushing horizontally feels natural; after all, the teeth are positioned horizontally. However, brushing in this manner can actually lead to gum abrasion. Instead, brush in short strokes at a 45 degree angle, not horizontally but not exactly vertical either.
  • It is actually your tongue that harbors the bulk of the bacteria, so be sure to brush the tongue as well. If you ignore this area, the bacteria will transfer to the teeth within hours after brushing, completely nullifying the cleaning you just gave it.
  • Brushing transfers bacteria to the bristles, so be sure to rinse the brush after cleaning, or else the bacteria will be transferred back into your mouth the next time you brush. Also be sure to dry the brush after rinsing it because leftover moisture will cultivate more bacteria.
  • Use mouthwash to help remove leftover plaque and ensure fresh breath.

A woman with healthy white teeth smiling while flosing

Flossing Done the Correct Way

Most dentists agree that flossing is the best weapon against plaque and gingivitis, yet some statistics show that as many as four out of five Americans do not floss at all. Most people just don’t want to do it because it’s time consuming and a hassle.

However, flossing reaches the areas between the teeth where brushing can’t reach. Floss at least once a day and preferably after every time you brush. The following flossing technique is recommended by the American Dental Association.

  • Wind about 18 inches of floss around both middle fingers and pinch the center with both thumbs and index fingers, leaving about two inches of length in between.
  • Use your index fingers to guide the two inch length of floss in the spaces between your lower teeth and do the same for the upper teeth using your thumbs.
  • Gently slide the floss up and down, making sure to use a clean section for each tooth.
  • Be careful not to use too much force when pushing the floss between your teeth as the sudden motion may cut into your gum tissue.

A woman with healthy teeth and gums smiling during a dental check-up.

Don’t Neglect Visiting Your Dentist

Even if you are a meticulous brusher and adhere to all of the above steps to the T, it is still not a replacement for periodic trips to your dentist. While responsible oral hygiene reduces your risk of developing gum disease, it is only through an exam that early signs of oral disease can be detected and mitigated through the proper procedures.

A set of healthier gums and pearly whites are always attainable as long as you make it a habit to brush and floss with emphasis on proper technique and visit your dentist on a routine basis.

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