How to maintain healthy gums during self-isolation
Yes, we know: we've entered Stage 3 of reopening - this is great news and our dental offices are definitely equipped to keep you and your family safe (read about some of our safety measures here)! But that doesn't mean that COVID-19 is gone. So we understand that many people are still minimizing outings - even to the dentist. If you fall into this category, make sure you're keeping up with exemplary dental hygiene so that once you feel safe enough to come in for a check-up, that you won't be surprised by any new issues.
Taking care of your gums is integral to keeping a health mouth. Because they support your teeth, if they aren't strong and healthy, it could put your teeth at risk. For example, in cases of severe periodontal disease, the gums have receded and it's not uncommon for a tooth to fall out at this point. If you're thinking, "that's not a problem, I can still eat with my remaining teeth", please be aware that you may lose more teeth as time goes on and the ones that remain, may shift - making the process of chewing food difficult. And you may also lose a front tooth, which can impact your smile.
If you're thinking that implants may be a solution, sometimes it is, sometimes it isn't. If the gums aren't healthy, they may no longer capable of handling an implant placement. Putting in a bridge may not be a viable solution in this case either - because it involves the neighbouring teeth to be strong enough to withstand holding up the replacement tooth/replacement teeth. If the gums have loosened away from the tooth that came out, it's likely that that gums surrounding the neighbouring teeth are in a similar condition (and may come out shortly as well). That may just leave you with the option of getting a denture. But honestly, wouldn't it be more cost effective and way less hassle to take care of what you currently have rather than plan for a denture?
Ok, rant over (LOL). Firstly, it's a good idea to recognize what healthy gums look like.
Aim for pink gums (not red) - the shade of pink does vary depending on complexion, so you can ask your dental health professional (dentist or hygienist) if what you have is "healthy" and then you'll get a baseline of where you are and if you can improve. And continue paying attention at home - if your gums feel tender or swollen, take a look at the colouring around the sore spot and compare it to another portion of the gums.
Tender and swollen gums are not ideal - it is an indication that there is some inflammation going on and you need to reduce the inflammation to make it healthy again. You want firm gums that don't bleed when you brush and floss. The solution to each of these issues is to actually brush and floss them more thoroughly. This helps to 'toughen them up' - and you'll notice that the cleaner you keep them in a regular basis, the less bleeding and tenderness and swelling you'll have. After a certain point, the gums will no longer bleed when you brush (until something new comes up, or if you start slacking on maintenance - sorry, we couldn't think of a nicer way of wording that!). ***Please note, this doesn't NOT mean that you're brushing them aggressively. You're brushing them gently but thoroughly. If you brush gums too harshly, you risk damaging the soft tissue that way. When in doubt, ask your dental hygienist if you think you might be brushing too hard. There are also electric toothbrushes that connect to external devices via bluetooth - and they tell you when you're brushing too hard (:D We think it's kind of neat!!)
Look for gums that stick close to the teeth - if they look like they're coming away from your teeth or that your teeth are longer than 'normal' - this may be a sign that you've got some recession. If your adult teeth are wiggling, this can be another sign that your gums aren't as healthy as they could be.
So here's how to maintain them:
1) Floss correctly
One of the reasons why we always recommend flossing is that your toothbrush simply can't get to some areas in your mouth - it's difficult to ensure the bristles of your brush navigate in between the tight spaces of your teeth and perhaps even impossible for them to go slightly underneath the gum line to do a thorough clean.
The less gunk stuck in your mouth, the less inflammation your gums experience, the healthier they will be. If you haven't used floss before, there is a slight learning curve - and the great news is, the more you do it, the easier it gets. It's important to note that you're not trying to flick food with the floss - you want to go gently and thoroughly.
Here's a quick video that demonstrates our effective flossing technique. Additionally, it's a great idea to do a check-in with your dental hygienist - to make sure you're brushing and flossing effectively. You may be surprised at how much debris you can catch with flossing properly!
2) Brush your gums
Yup - while we always say, 'brush your teeth', it should probably be 'brush your mouth' to be more accurate, LOL. So, to add another layer to your dental home care routine, make sure you're using your toothbrush to its full potential. Make sure to work your brush to the base of your gum line. Brush side-to side on the gums (to kind of massage them, bring blood flow to the gums and to strengthen them up) then sweep the brush up each tooth on your lower arch and brush down each tooth on your upper jaw. Here's a short video demonstration. And because it's so important, we want to mention again that you're NOT looking to slough off gum tissue or to wear down your teeth - so don't apply excessive pressure while you brush. Aim for a gentle pressure, meticulously going around each and every tooth thoroughly and access all surfaces.
3) Be selective on what foods you consume
Ever had a piece of popcorn stuck either in between your teeth or lodged into the gum? Ouch!! If your gums are at a particularly sensitive state, it might be a good idea to avoid hard, scratchy food. Once your gums are healthier and stronger, have them occasionally as a treat. (Or maybe in the case of popcorn, just avoiding it altogether - because accidentally crunching on an un-popped kernel sounds painful as well!)
Here are a couple of other foods you may want to think twice about consuming.
4) Establish a routine hygiene appointment
Again, only once you feel safe from COVID-19, prioritize routine check-ups and cleaning appointments with a dental professional. We work to prevent dental problems as much as possible, so if we see potential issues, we will let you know about them. It's not uncommon for us to say, "focus more on this area of your mouth because the gums look a little inflamed". We are also trained to offer more specialized dental treatment that can help preserve gums in cases that need it. Get these treatments if they are recommended to you so that it can get your gums to a more stable place and keep your teeth and gums for life.
Sometimes it can be difficult for patients to see potential issues - whether it's because they're simply not trained to see it or it could just be hard to view anything beyond your front teeth. We have the diagnostic tools and equipment and expertise to take care of you - so take full advantage of our dental team!