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Oral Care

The Health Perils of Gum Disease

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By Joanne Barker
WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Steve Drescher, DDS

Like a lot of people, Susan Karcz didn’t often think about her gums. “People tend to pay more attention to teeth,” she says. “You can see them, for one thing.” Gum graft surgery changed her focus. The procedure involved removing tissue from the roof of Karcz’s mouth and grafting it onto the front of her lower jaw, an experience she does not want to repeat.

White, sparkling teeth are not the only sign of a healthy mouth. Your gums are a barrier that helps prevent inflammation that may damage your body. In fact, gum disease has been linked to health problems such as diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and premature births or low-birth weight babies.

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The good news? With daily brushing and flossing, and regular check-ups, most people can prevent gum disease. Here are answers to top questions about gum disease.

What is gum disease?

Pamela Quinones, RDH, president of the American Dental Hygienists’ Association, wishes that more people paid attention to their gums. “Most people go to the dentist because they’re worried about cavities,” Quinones tells WebMD. “But once you reach a certain age, gum disease is a more important concern.”

Just as your skin protects your muscles, bones, and major organs, your gums protect your teeth and the structures that hold them in place. Gum disease, also known as periodontal disease, starts when plaque, made up of bacteria, mucus, and food particles, invades the small space between your gums and teeth. If left to fester, your gums can become infected, putting them and your teeth at risk. If gum disease progresses, it becomes increasingly difficult, painful, and expensive to treat.

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How Do I Measure Up? Get the Facts Fast!

Number of Days Per Week I Floss

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Only 18.5% of Americans never floss. You are missing out on a simple way to make a big difference in the health of your mouth. Regardless of how well you brush, plaque still forms between your teeth and along your gums. Floss removes food trapped between the teeth and removes the film of bacteria that forms there before it turns to plaque, which can cause inflamed gums (gingivitis), cavities, and tooth loss. Try flossing just one tooth to get started.

You are one of 31% of Americans who don't floss daily. You are missing out on a simple way to make a big difference in the health of your mouth. Regardless of how well you brush, plaque still forms between your teeth and along your gums. Toothbrush bristles alone cannot clean effectively between these tight spaces. Flossing removes up to 80% of the film that hardens to plaque, which can cause inflamed gums (gingivitis), cavities, and tooth loss. Aim for 3 more days!

You are one of 31% of Americans who don't floss daily, but you're well on your way to making a positive impact on your teeth and gums. Regardless of how well you brush, plaque still forms between your teeth and along your gums. Toothbrush bristles alone cannot clean effectively between these tight spaces. Flossing removes up to 80% of the film that hardens to plaque, which can cause inflamed gums (gingivitis), cavities, and tooth loss. Aim for all 7 days!

Only 50.5% of Americans floss daily, and good for you that you are one of them! Regardless of how well you brush, plaque still forms between your teeth and along your gums. Toothbrush bristles alone cannot clean effectively between these tight spaces. Flossing removes up to 80% of the film that hardens to plaque, which can cause inflamed gums (gingivitis), cavities, and tooth loss. Congratulations on your good oral health habit!

SOURCES:

American Dental Association, Healthy People 2010

This tool is intended only for adults 18 and older.

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