Addressing gum health is vital for your oral and overall health.

When dentists use the term “oral health,” your teeth likely spring to mind immediately. However, it may surprise you to learn just how important your gums are to your oral health as well. Although gum health is often overlooked in at-home dental care, the health of your teeth relies on the health of your gums in more ways than one. Your gums function as part of the supporting structure of your teeth. They also provide a seal against bacteria, protecting the roots and bones beneath your gum line from infection. If your gums are unhealthy, it negatively affects the health of your teeth—and the health of your entire body. Unfortunately, since the importance of gum health is often overlooked, nearly half of Americans have some form of periodontal disease.

As a result, we’ve put together 5 things you should know about preventing and treating periodontal disease.

1. Stopping periodontitis is one of the most important health decisions you can make in your entire life.

Most people simply aren’t aware of the impact periodontitis can have on their teeth—let alone the overarching impact it can have on your overall health. Periodontitis is a severe type of gum disease where bacteria make it beneath the gum line and begin attacking the roots of your teeth. It can easily go unnoticed because it’s often painless, but if it isn’t treated it can lead to tooth loss. In fact, periodontitis is the biggest cause of tooth loss in America.

Once oral bacteria make it beneath your gum line, it often also finds its way into your bloodstream. Once there, it wreaks havoc on your overall health. In addition to making it harder to control existing health issues such as diabetes, periodontitis has been linked to increased risks of stroke, heart disease, and pregnancy complications like preterm birth. The bacteria can also cause potentially life-threatening infections, such as endocarditis, in other parts of the body. You can also inhale this bacteria into the lungs, where it increases your chances of getting respiratory illnesses like pneumonia.

There’s even evidence that oral bacteria target immune cells, destroying their ability to fight invaders while leaving their ability to cause inflammation intact. This can provide an opening for other illnesses, including some cancers. These massive impacts on your short- and long-term overall health are major enough to influence your lifespan, so treating and preventing periodontitis can help you live a healthier, longer life.

2. For prevention and treatment, diet matters much more than people realize.

Your diet can have a huge impact on your oral health. Not only can it help to prevent—or cause—cavities, but it can also impact gum disease. Sugars are infamous for causing cavities because they fuel oral bacteria, but carbohydrates are just as guilty because they’re easily broken down into sugars in your mouth. As a result, eating a balanced diet is essential for maintaining a healthy mouth and a healthy body. This means focusing on consuming a good balance of lean proteins, whole grains, dairy, fruits, and vegetables. Crunchy fruits or vegetables, in particular, can actually scrape plaque off your teeth as you chew.

You don’t have to eliminate your favorite sugar- or carbohydrate-rich foods, but you should limit how often you eat them. It is better to eat one or two large snacks during the day instead of snacking constantly. It’s also better for your oral health if you drink water between meals instead of other drinks. This gives your saliva the chance to fight bacteria and return the pH of your mouth to normal.

3. Most people don’t take it as seriously as they should until it’s almost too late.

Since the far-reaching effects of periodontitis aren’t well understood, most people simply don’t take it as seriously as they should until it’s almost too late. At the very least, they wait until they’ve entered a much more difficult stage to treat. Periodontitis can cause permanent damage to the roots and supporting structures of your teeth. This damage isn’t always easy or possible to repair. It can be difficult to treat, involving a range of nonsurgical and surgical procedures, depending on each individual case. Dr. Bentz will choose which treatment is best to get beneath your gum line to clean the area of bacteria.

Thankfully, taking periodontal disease seriously is as simple as taking steps to prevent it from happening in the first place. You should also mention any concerns about bleeding gums with Dr. Bentz. While a little bleeding when you floss may not seem like a big deal, it’s a warning sign of gum disease. Even if it’s minor, it’s vital that you take it seriously and take steps to treat it right away—before it can become a major issue that costs you time, money, and pain.

4. There’s a treatment for periodontal disease called laser gum surgery.

While it might sound like something out of a sci-fi novel, the use of lasers in dentistry is becoming more and more commonplace. There are a number of very good reasons for that. Laser gum surgery can treat periodontitis safely and less invasively than traditional treatments that rely on scalpels for cutting. They’re incredibly precise, allowing dentists to remove the damaged tissue without harming healthy tissue, which leaves more of your gum tissue intact.

Additionally, since lasers cauterize and sterilize tissue as they cut, there’s less bleeding and swelling both during and after the procedure. There is also a reduced risk of infection while you’re healing. You’ll even take less time to heal from laser gum surgery than you would from surgery using traditional tools like a scalpel. The lasers are also nearly painless, which greatly reduces—and sometimes eliminates—the need for localized anesthetics. Laser gum surgery isn’t an option for every case of periodontitis because very severe cases need more extensive surgery. However, laser gum surgery is an ideal treatment option for many patients, making the entire process easier, faster, safer, and more pain-free.

5. There are topical antibiotics dentists can prescribe if you are a good candidate and need support getting periodontitis under control.

Procedures like laser gum therapy, scaling, and root planing are essential for treating gum disease. Antibiotics can also provide an extra boost to help you heal faster and to reduce the chance that your infection will return. Dr. Bentz may place topical antibiotics such as Arestin beneath your gum line during your procedure. It’s completely painless and dissolves immediately. These antibiotics hang around and help fight lingering bacteria for an extended period of time. This makes it a good addition to your treatment, especially if you’re concerned about reoccurrence.

Antibiotics, however, do not replace the importance of great oral hygiene. You’ll still need to implement and stick to an oral hygiene routine that includes brushing your teeth for two minutes at least twice a day, using mouthwash and flossing at least once a day, and visiting Dr. Bentz for a preventative care appointment at least every six months.

Periodontal disease can wreak havoc on your mouth and your entire body if it’s left unchecked, so it’s vital for everyone to understand the importance of preventing and treating the disease while there’s still time. Thankfully, periodontal disease is easy to prevent and there’s a wide range of treatments available to match your needs. If you suspect you may have gum disease, don’t waste time waiting for your symptoms to get worse—give our office a call and schedule an appointment with Dr. Bentz right away!