What is gum disease and how can I keep my gums healthy?

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May 31st, 2024

Illustration of smiling woman giving a thumbs up while standing behind 3 giant teeth and gums

We all strive to take care of our teeth and prevent cavities in our mouth. But what about our gums? Are they important? How can they help or hurt when it comes to a healthy mouth?

The roots of our teeth are anchored into bone in our jaws and surrounded by our gums, which is the tissue that holds them in place. When healthy, our gums are pink and firm. They help keep food and plaque from building up on the roots of our teeth.

Diagram of tooth set in gums showing where to look for the appearance of gingivitis and plaque.

When unhealthy, we accumulate plaque and tartar on our teeth both above and below the gums. This is what causes gum disease. The early/mild stage of gum disease is called gingivitis. In the advanced stage, periodontal disease will destroy the bone that anchors our teeth and eventually cause us to lose teeth.

What are signs of gum disease?

  • Swollen gums
  • Red gums
  • Tender gums
  • Receding gums (pockets around teeth)
  • Gums that bleed easily
  • Loose or extra sensitive teeth
Rotating .gif shows the 5 prevention measures that can be taken to reduce the likelihood of gum disease.

Steps you can take to prevent gum disease:

  1. Brush your teeth twice per day for two minutes with fluoridated toothpaste. You can even brush after every meal to remove food and plaque from your teeth. Use a soft bristled brush to be gentle on your gums.
  2. Floss once a day to remove plaque and food that your toothbrush can’t reach.
  3. Quit smoking. Smokers are twice as likely to contract gum disease and treatments may not be as effective for them as nonsmokers.
  4. Look for the American Dental Association’s Seal of Acceptance on your toothpaste and mouthwash. Toothpastes contain abrasives to help clean your teeth, and the ADA seal shows that they have been proven safe and effective.
  5. Make sure you visit your dentist for regular exams, cleanings and X-rays. Gum disease will not go away on its own and must be treated by a dental professional.
Illustration of a dentist holding a toothbrush and smiling.

Depending on the stage or severity of the disease, gum disease can be treated and managed in different ways, but it will not go away on its own. Seek care from your dentist and hygienist so that they can recommend a special cleaning, prescription toothpastes, medications or other treatments to improve the health of your gums.

This information in this post is for general educational purposes only and does not warrant or represent any information as related to health as specifically appropriate for you. It is not intended to be medical advice or replace the relationship that you have with your health care providers. You should always seek medical advice on any diagnosis or treatment from a qualified health care provider. The information is provided “as is” without any representations or warranties, express or implied.