Do you suffer with red gums, or is the roof of your mouth swollen? Without fail, you follow your dentist’s orders to keep your teeth and gums healthy — but did you know that the condition of your mouth can also shine light on other health problems? Some dental conditions, such as bad breath, pale gums and red gums, can be signs of gum disease. But other oral symptoms may point to seemingly unrelated health problems. (Hint: Eroded teeth could be a sign of an eating disorder or chronic heartburn.)
If you have gum disease, you’re not alone. More than 1 out of 2, or 64.7 million Americans, have mild, moderate, or severe gum disease, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Gum disease ranges from unhealthy gum swelling, called gingivitis, to serious tissue and bone destruction. In the worst cases of gum disease, you will lose teeth.
Healthy mouths are full of bacteria, mucus, and other food particles that form a sticky, colorless “plaque” on the teeth. Normally, you get rid of plaque by brushing and flossing regularly. But when plaque builds up because of poor oral hygiene, it causes inflamed, bleeding gums or gingivitis.
Gingivitis is the mild form of gum disease. Good oral health habits — brushing at least twice a day, flossing daily, getting regular dental checkups, and not smoking — can help prevent and reverse gingivitis.
Plaque that is not removed hardens into tartar. This will lead to increased bleeding and a more serious form of gum disease, called periodontitis. With this advanced gum disease, the unhealthy gums pull away from the teeth and form small pockets that can become infected. If periodontal disease goes untreated, the bones, gums and connective tissue that support the teeth are destroyed.
According to the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, certain people have a higher risk of gum disease than others. Risk factors for gum disease include:
- Genetic predisposition
- Hormonal changes in girls and women
- Other illnesses, such as AIDS and cancer treatments
Taking care of unhealthy gums or gum disease can save your teeth. Here are some lifestyle and home remedies to consider:
- Brush your teeth at least twice a day
- Use a soft toothbrush
- Replace your toothbrush every three months
- Floss daily
- Use an over-the-counter mouth rinse after brushing to reduce plaque
- See your dentist regularly for professional dental cleanings and mouth checks
- Don’t smoke
Take a look at these oral symptoms to find out what they could be telling you about your health.