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Preventing Gum Disease

What is Gum Disease?

Gum disease is the swelling, soreness or infection of the tissues  supporting the teeth. There are two main types of gum disease:

  • Gingivitis -  This is when the gums around the teeth become very red and swollen. Often the swollen gums bleed when you brush them.

  • Periodontitis  - This is a more severe form of gum disease which can result from long-standing gingivitis. In periodontitis the attachment between the teeth and gums breaks down, and the bone holding the teeth within the jaw is lost. The teeth begin to loosen and can eventually fall out.


What Causes Gum Disease?


Gum disease is caused by 'plaque'. Plaque is a film of bacteria which forms on the surface of the teeth every day.  Many of the bacteria in plaque are harmless, but some can be harmful and lead to gum disease.

Plaque is usually easy to remove by brushing and flossing your teeth. However if it is not removed it can harden and form a substance called 'tartar'. Tartar sticks more firmly to the teeth and can usually only be removed by your dentist/hygienist.

There are certain other factors which can increase your risk of developing gum disease:

  • Family History - if you have a family history of gum disease you are more likely to develop it

  • Smoking - smoking may change the type of bacteria in dental plaque, increasing the number of harmful bacteria. It also reduces blood flow to the gums and tissues supporting the teeth, reducing the body's ability to protect itself from these harmful bacteria. Because of the reduced blood flow, smokers may not get the warning symptoms of bleeding gums as much as non-smokers.

  • Diabetes - poorly controlled diabetes can increase your risk

  • Weakened immune system - for example due to conditions such as HIV or AIDS, or certain treatments such as chemotherapy

How to Prevent Gum Disease

1) Tooth Brushing

  • How long to brush for: You should brush your teeth thoroughly for 2 minutes twice a day.

  • When to brush: The best time to brush is in the morning before breakfast and last thing at night before you go to bed. Avoid brushing straight after a meal as it can damage your teeth, especially if  you've had fruit, fizzy drinks, wine or any other foods that contain acid.

  • Manual or electric: tests have shown that electric brushes are more effective at removing plaque than manual brushes. They are particularly useful for people with limited movement, such as disabled or elderly people who find it difficult to clean thoroughly with a manual brush. It is however possible to brush effectively with a manual brush as long as a good technique is employed.

  • Use a brush with a small to medium- sized head, small enough to reach into all parts of the mouth.

  • It should have soft to medium multi-tufted bristles. Hard-bristled brushes should be avoided as they can cause the tooth enamel to be worn away.​​​

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  • Brushing technique

    • Place the head of your toothbrush against your teeth, then tilt the bristle tips to a 45 degree angle against the gumline. Move the brush in small circular movements (for manual brushing).

    • Brush the outer surfaces of each tooth keeping the bristles angled against the gumline.

    • Use the  same method on the inside surfaces of all your teeth.

    • Brush the biting surfaces of the teeth.

  • To clean the inside surfaces of the front teeth, tilt the brush vertically and make several small  circular strokes with the front part of the brush.

  • Brushing your tongue will help freshen your breath and will clean your mouth by removing bacteria.

2) Interdental Cleaning

  • It is important to clean in between your teeth at least once a day using either interdental brushes or dental floss

  • Interdental brushes are good for wide gaps in between your teeth, or if you find flossing difficult. They come in different sizes for different sized gaps.

  • Flossing is good for narrower gaps where teeth are closer together. Correct flossing technique:

    • Break off about 18 inches of floss, and wind most of it around one of your middle fingers. Wind the remaining floss around the middle finger of the other hand.

    • Then hold  the floss tightly between your thumb and forefingers, with about an inch of floss between them, leaving no slack.

    • Use a gentle 'rocking' motion to guide the floss between your teeth.

    • When the floss reaches the gumline, curve it into a C-shape holding it against the side of one of the teeth in the gap. Gently scrape the side of the tooth, moving the floss away from the gum. Repeat on the other side of the gap, along the side of the next tooth.

  • Flossettes are an alternative to flossing which many patients find easier to use. They consist of a piece of floss on a small plastic handle

3) Smoking Cessation

4) Good Diabetic Control

  • If you are diabetic it is important to maintain good control of your blood sugar level


5) Regular Dental / Hygienist Visits

  • It is important to visit the dentist regularly for check-ups  - your dentist will advise you as to how often you need to attend

  • If you are at low risk of developing teeth and gum problems your dentist may suggest you only need to come once every 1 - 2 years.

  • However if you are at higher risk they may suggest you visit as frequently as every 3 months. They may also advise that you visit the hygienist.

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