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National Oral Health Month: Tips on how to prevent and manage gum disease

Gum disease is the leading cause of tooth loss and various other health complications. Here are some tips from an oral hygienist and a periodontist on how to prevent and manage gum disease at home.

September is National Oral Health Month, a month that highlights the importance of taking the time to pay extra attention to your oral health routine. It’s important to know that two of the world’s most common health problems affecting the mouth are cavities (dental caries) and gingivitis and periodontitis (gum disease). Gum disease has been linked to coronary heart disease, adverse pregnancy outcomes and diabetes. And according to the South African Health Department, new research shows that women with gum disease find it harder to conceive. This September, for National Oral Health Month, the spotlight is on gum disease, the second most common dental health problem in South Africa.

Here are some tips from South African oral hygienist Dirna Grobbelaar and periodontist Dr Corlene Schnetler on how to prevent and manage gum disease at home:

3 things you need to know about bleeding gums

If you see red when you brush or floss, you may have gum disease, a common condition with potentially serious consequences. Here are the three important things you should know about bleeding gums:

  1. Bleeding gums are never normal.

“Healthy gums seldom bleed. Bleeding gums are usually a sign of gum disease,” says Grobbelaar, Ivohealth’s oral hygiene advisor.

  1. Gum disease is treatable.

In the early stages, gum disease can even be treated successfully at home by following a meticulous oral hygiene routine. Use antibacterial mouth rinse and toothpaste, like GUM Paroex, which contains chlorhexidine and CPC, the gold standard in plaque control.

  1. Gum disease is preventable.

“Prevention is better than cure. If you follow a consistent oral hygiene routine, with the correct tools and techniques, gum disease can be prevented,” says Dr Schnetler of Cape Periodontal Specialists.

If untreated, bleeding gums can lead to more serious problems, including periodontitis, tooth loss, cardiovascular disease and pregnancy complications. It is also more expensive to treat at a more advanced stage.

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4 things you should know about gum disease

Here are four things you should know about gum disease and how to maintain good oral health and keep your gums ‘in the pink’.

  1. Gum disease can lead to much bigger issues.

According to WHO and the South African Dental Association (SADA), gum disease is the second biggest oral health problem in the country.  Unfortunately, if not treated, gum disease has serious consequences. What starts as mild, reversible gingivitis can become periodontitis and permanently damage the gums. It is also linked to several chronic health conditions.

If not treated, gum disease has serious consequences. Photo: Submitted

“Untreated gum disease causes bone and tooth loss. It has also been linked to systemic diseases including cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, diabetes and poor pregnancy outcomes,” said Dr Schnetler.

  1. You probably won’t know you have gum disease.

Because gum disease is usually painless, especially in the early stages, most people don’t realise they have it. “Unless you’re a dental professional, it’s not that easy to tell the difference between healthy, pink gums and red, inflamed gums,” warns Grobbelaar.

“One of the most noticeable signs are bleeding gums – if you see red when brushing or cleaning between the teeth, it is most likely a sign of gum disease.”

  1. Gum disease can be treated at home if caught early.

If you notice a little bleeding when you brush or floss, you can try and resolve the problem at home by following a meticulous oral hygiene routine for a week.

“Take extra special care of your mouth. Brush correctly twice a day with a soft-bristled brush, ideally using an antibacterial toothpaste like GUM Paroex Intensive Action. Clean between the teeth daily, using whatever interdental tool you find easiest – floss, an interdental brush with antibacterial bristles, or even Soft-Picks,” advises Grobbelaar. “After eating and before bed, rinse with salt water or an antibacterial mouth rinse like GUM Paroex, which contains chlorhexidine and CPC, the gold standard in plaque control.”

If your gums continue to bleed after seven days, it’s time to see your dentist or oral hygienist. “If plaque isn’t completely removed with regular brushing and flossing, it hardens into tartar. Tartar can’t be removed with regular oral care and will continue to irritate the gums unless it is removed professionally.”

If caught in the early stages, a professional scale and polish may be enough to sort out your bleeding gums. Your dentist will advise if further treatment is required and will refer you to a periodontist if necessary.

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  1. Gum disease is preventable.

It’s worth remembering that, in most cases, gum disease can be avoided. “Prevention is always better than cure – from a medical and cost perspective,” says Dr Schnetler. “If you follow a consistent oral hygiene routine, with the correct tools and techniques, gum disease can usually be prevented.”

Eating a healthy diet and not smoking also play an important role in keeping the gums healthy.

In most cases, gum disease can be avoided. Photo: Submitted

For expert advice on gum disease, speak to your dentist or oral hygienist. For educational information on bleeding gums, visit the Ivohealth website.

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