Every trip to the dentist comes with the same dreaded question: do you floss? While brushing every day is generally a given, there are far fewer people consistently flossing. According to the CDC, “47.2% of adults aged 30 years and older have some form of periodontal disease.”1 That’s almost half! Flossing can be easy to forget and sometimes hard to use, but it keeps your gums healthy.
Periodontal disease is severe, causing teeth to fall out if left untreated. No one wants dental issues, let alone loss of teeth. Simple additions to your morning and evening routines can save you a lot of time, pain, and money in the long run. Your smile is one of the first things people see, and it’s worth taking steps to maintain healthy gums.
Healthy Gums vs Unhealthy Gums
Gum health is the foundation of dental well-being. If your gums are suffering, problems with your teeth are bound to occur. Healthy gums look firm and pink and are maintained by brushing your teeth and flossing effectively. They should be free from pain or inflammation, and if you keep up with dental care and go in for a checkup at least once per year, your gums will thank you.
Contrary to what you might think, hygienists don’t create bleeding gums from being too harsh during cleanings. Think about gum irritation like getting a splinter. The affected area glows red, becomes sore, and bleeds once you pull it out. Similarly, when food lodges between your teeth, the gums swell and bleed when you floss. If the inflammation and bleeding are excessive, it might be a sign of periodontal disease.
Periodontal diseases occur when there are infections or swelling around your teeth caused by poor oral health. When bacteria sit on the teeth, plaque forms. Untreated, the plaque will then build up into tartar and burrow down into the gums. Treatment may be performed by a periodontist, a dentist, or a dental hygienist.
Symptoms of periodontal disease include:
- Bad breath or a bad taste in the mouth
- Red or swollen gums
- Teeth shifting
- Painful chewing
- Gums pulling away from the teeth
- Loose teeth
Periodontal disease is a serious problem that continues to progress until treated. The first stage of gum disease is gingivitis.
Gingivitis is the most common form of gum disease, characterized by bloody and inflamed gums. Gingivitis occurs primarily because of poor oral health, which allows the bacteria to stay in your mouth for too long. In most cases, it can be treated by cleaning up your oral care routine and getting a professional cleaning.
The next phase of Periodontal disease is halitosis. Halitosis is when you have bad breath or a bad taste in your mouth that doesn’t go away no matter how much you brush.4
Halitosis can be caused by:
- Cavities and gum pockets – Cavities and gum pockets create spaces in your mouth that become breeding grounds for bacteria. These areas can be hard to reach when cleaning your teeth.5 The bacteria will continue to grow until treated professionally.
- Dry mouth – Saliva is an essential first step of digestion, breaking down food and sending it from your mouth down to your stomach. It even provides disease-fighting substances6 that help prevent cavities and infections. Without saliva, food stays in the mouth, and bacteria is able to grow. Dry mouth can happen for a lot of reasons, whether it be from smoking or a side effect of a medication you’re taking.
- Postnasal drip – Postnasal drip also causes halitosis because when your body is fighting a sinus infection, the bacteria will feed on the excess mucus produced.2 Postnasal drip is caused by an infection in the mouth, throat, or nose.
If you don’t eradicate the problem at the halitosis phase, your dental health can be in serious jeopardy. At this point, the periodontal disease has escalated and rooted deeply into your gums, which can destroy your jawbone. As the infection grows, the bone will deteriorate. Your jawbone is the supporting structure of your teeth, so your teeth will start moving around and can even fall out.8 If this occurs, you are at the last stage of gum disease: Periodontitis.
Periodontitis is the final stage of gum disease, which means receding gums, and ultimately, tooth loss. According to the Mayo Clinic, Periodontitis can either be chronic, aggressive or necrotizing.3
- Chronic Periodontitis is what adults with advanced gum disease typically have. It is caused by inadequate oral health that allows plaque and tartar to build up, deteriorating slowly over time. This deterioration advances to tooth loss and a destroyed jaw bone.
- Aggressive Periodontitis is far less common and starts when you are young. This type of gum disease is hereditary and affects families, and can also result in tooth loss and gum deterioration in severe cases. Let your dental hygienist know if anyone in your family suffers from aggressive periodontitis.
- Necrotizing Periodontitis is an extreme case of periodontitis. The blood supply gets cut off and kills gum tissue, tooth ligaments, and the bones that support your teeth, resulting in severe infection. Necrotizing periodontitis happens when you have risk factors that limit your body from fighting disease. These include HIV, cancer, and malnutrition.
The best way to avoid a high dental bill is to stay on top of your oral health. Prevention is key! Make sure to be brushing twice a day and flossing, as well as going for a dentist visit at least once a year. If you catch gum issues early, most can be treated with low-cost methods like professional teeth cleaning and proper oral hygiene. Once your gum and overall dental health begin to decline, it becomes a steep, slippery slope.
When periodontal disease becomes advanced, you may require medications or in more severe cases, surgery. Not to mention the fact that if you take too long to take care of it, your teeth could start falling out. Even if you have dental insurance, any price is more than you want to be spending since gum disease is preventable in most cases. Invest in flossers you and your family will use and make time to keep up your oral hygiene.
Taking Care of Your Gums
A big reason that people let their oral hygiene decline is that they don’t have dental tools that work with their lifestyle. Knowing the best flossing options is a crucial step in taking care of your gums.
Traditional floss is a good, primary option to clean your gums. Unfortunately, regular string flossers have a few downsides.
- Can contain harmful chemicals
- Don’t remove as much plaque as they could
- Require two hands and can be difficult for some to use
Floss picks are another way to clean between your teeth. It holds the floss for you, so you only have to use one hand. However, they aren’t as effective as traditional floss because you can’t reach the same angles. They also use a lot of plastic, and you need to use multiple picks to clean between the teeth thoroughly.
Water flossing is a superior option to traditional floss and floss picks. Using a countertop system that replaces floss with water, this unit sprays around and between the teeth. This option is excellent for people who are more susceptible to gum disease because the water tackles a more significant surface area of bacteria. This method is more effective than string floss, but:
- Can be messy, often dripping down your chin and onto the countertop
- Sits on the countertop, taking up precious space
Shower flossers like the ToothShowerare an excellent alternative that hooks right into your shower. They combine the effectiveness of the water pick with the ease of taking a shower. These units:
- Mount right onto the wall of the shower
- Use the same water as the showerhead
- Include toothbrush and gum massager along with water flosser
- Make it easier to remember to floss daily
- Have the benefits of water flossing without the countertop mess or storage issues
- Allow you to do your entire dental routine while you’re already in the shower
These are a solid option for people who want to find a flosser that fits seamlessly into their morning routine.
It’s essential to identify the reasons you struggle to floss and find the tool that will make it easy. Consider your daily routine, available space, and the cost. Remember that preventing gum disease can save you a lot of time and money in the long run, so a flossing option that you will utilize is well worth the investment. Once you’ve got the right tools that work for you, it becomes second nature to keep your gums healthy.
Some factors can put you at a higher risk for gum disease.
- Tobacco use – According to the CDC, smokers have twice the risk4 of gum disease compared to non-smokers. Smoking weakens your immune system, making you more susceptible to periodontal disease. The best thing that you can do is to be extremely proactive with your oral hygiene routine and reduce or eliminate tobacco use.
- Diabetes – Diabetes creates an excess amount of sugar in the blood, which can lead to an oral infection. When your diabetes is not under control, the sugar content in saliva also increases, promoting harmful bacteria growth and worsening the infection.5 If you have diabetes and develop gum disease, the condition may take longer to treat and make your blood glucose more difficult to manage.
- Crooked teeth – When your teeth shift in different directions, it can often be challenging to clean in between them, resulting in areas of bacteria. If you have crooked teeth, make sure that you have an effective flossing system to best prevent these bacteria from growing.
- Age – Older people are the most at risk. According to the CDC, “About 2 in 3 (68%) adults aged 65 years or older have gum disease.”6 Many factors contribute to this risk like access to dental insurance, socioeconomic status, and disabilities. Also, many medications have dry mouth as a side effect, which also increases your risk of developing gum disease.
- Stress – When you are stressed, it’s not just your peace of mind that suffers. Stress takes a physical toll on your body and can even weaken your ability to fight off infection, including periodontal disease. You can’t always prevent stress from happening, but do what you can to alleviate stress as much as possible.
- Heredity – Some gum issues are passed down. If you have a family history of periodontal disease, especially aggressive periodontitis, there’s a good chance you are at a higher risk for gum issues. You should talk to your hygienist about preventative measures. It’s always good practice to maintain a consistent oral hygiene routine that includes thorough flossing.
- Immuno-deficiencies – Conditions like HIV weaken the body’s ability to fight off infections and worsen issues like dry mouth and gingivitis. People with immuno-deficiencies are especially susceptible to periodontal disease and other oral infections. According to the Clinical Guidelines Program, “highly-active antiretroviral therapy (ART) has significantly reduced this incidence,”7 so talk to your doctor about options to prevent and treat gum disease. In severe cases, HIV can cut off blood flow and cause necrotizing periodontitis.
- Female Hormonal Changes– When women experience hormonal changes, it can make them more susceptible to gum disease. Progesterone, the hormone released during menstruation, can increase blood flow to the gums and change the way gum tissue reacts to toxins like plaque.8 This hormone causes gums to become inflamed and can lead to dry mouth. You can prevent serious inflammation by maintaining good oral hygiene.
Healthy Gums, Happy Life
Gum health means overall well-being. Most cases of gum disease can be prevented with consistent oral hygiene and a regular checkup once a year. And with healthy gums come clean teeth and a beautiful smile worth showing off. So, take control of your dental care and find a routine that works for you.
If you’re someone who has struggled with flossing in the past, consider the ToothShower.
1) “Periodontal Disease | Oral Health Conditions | Division of Oral Health | CDC.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, www.cdc.gov/oralhealth/conditions/periodontal-disease.html.
2) “Halitosis.” Mouth Healthy TM, www.mouthhealthy.org/en/az-topics/h/halitosis.
3) “Periodontitis.” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 6 Mar. 2018, www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/periodontitis/symptoms-causes/syc-20354473.
4) “Smoking, Gum Disease, and Tooth Loss | Overviews of Diseases/Conditions | Tips From Former Smokers | CDC.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, www.cdc.gov/tobacco/campaign/tips/diseases/periodontal-gum-disease.html.
5) “Smoking, Gum Disease, and Tooth Loss | Overviews of Diseases/Conditions | Tips From Former Smokers | CDC.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, www.cdc.gov/tobacco/campaign/tips/diseases/periodontal-gum-disease.html.
6) “Oral Health for Older Americans | Adult Oral Health | Basics | Division of Oral Health | CDC.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, www.cdc.gov/oralhealth/basics/adult-oral-health/adult_older.htm.
7) “Management of Periodontal Disease.” AIDS Institute Clinical Guidelines, www.hivguidelines.org/hiv-care/hiv-related-periodontal-disease/.
8) “Hormones and Oral Health.” Cleveland Clinic, https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/11192-hormones-and-oral-health