Health: Healthy Teeth and Gums-1

What Healthy Gums Look Like

Healthy gums should look pink and firm, not red and swollen. To keep gums healthy, practice good oral hygiene. Brush your teeth at least twice a day, floss at least once a day, see your dentist regularly, and avoid smoking or chewing tobacco.

The research isn’t conclusive, but red, swollen, and bleeding gums may point to health problems from heart disease to diabetes. Sometimes, bacteria from your mouth can travel to your bloodstream, setting off an inflammatory reaction elsewhere in your body. Left untreated, gum disease can increase your risk for a host of diseases linked to inflammation. Certain diseases and medications also may cause mouth problems.

Can Mouth Bacteria Affect the Heart?

Some studies show that people with gum disease are more likely to suffer from heart disease than those with healthy, pink gums. Researchers aren’t sure why this association exists. One theory is that oral bacteria travel into the bloodstream where it may attach to fatty plaques in the arteries, causing inflammation and setting the stage for a heart attack. Are you are at risk? Talk to your doctor.

Gum Disease and Diabetes

Diabetes can reduce the body’s resistance to infection. Elevated blood sugars increase the risk of developing gum disease. What’s more, gum disease can make it harder to keep blood sugar levels in check. Protect your gums by keeping blood sugar levels as close to normal as possible. Brush after each meal and floss daily. See your dentist at least once a year.

Dry Mouth and Tongue Cause Tooth Decay

The 4 million Americans who have Sjögren’s syndrome are more prone to have oral health problems, too. With Sjögren’s, the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks tear ducts and saliva glands, leading to chronically dry eyes and dry mouth (called xerostomia). Saliva helps protect teeth and gums from bacteria that cause cavities and gingivitis. So a perpetually dry mouth is more susceptible to tooth decay and gum disease.

Medications That Cause Dry Mouth

Given that a chronically dry mouth raises risk of cavities and gum disease, you may want to check your medicine cabinet. Antihistamines, decongestants, painkillers, and antidepressants are among the drugs that can cause dry mouth. Talk to your doctor or dentist to find out if your medication regimen is affecting your oral health, and what you can do about it.

Stress and Teeth Grinding

If you are stressed, anxious, or depressed, you may be at higher risk for oral health problems. People under stress produce high levels of the hormone cortisol, which wreaks havoc on the gums and body. Stress also leads to poor oral care; more than 50% of people don’t brush or floss regularly when stressed. Other stress-related habits include smoking, drinking alcohol, and clenching and grinding teeth (called bruxism).

Osteoporosis and Tooth Loss

The brittle bone disease osteoporosis affects all the bones in your body — including your jaw bone — and can cause tooth loss. Bacteria from periodontitis, which is severe gum disease, can also break down the jaw bone. One kind of osteoporosis medication — bisphosphonates — may slightly increase the risk of a rare condition called osteonecrosis, which causes bone death of the jaw. Tell your dentist if you take bisphosphonates.

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