GUM disease and bad breath are common problems for many people. Both can be rather embarrassing, but in most cases can be fixed quite easily.


Gum disease, or as your dentist may call it, gingivitis, involves an inflammation of the gums – the tissue that surrounds and supports your teeth. When small pieces of food are mixed with saliva in the mouth, a thin layer of a substance called dental plaque is formed which sticks to the surface of your teeth and tongue. If dental plaque isn’t regularly removed by brushing and flossing it becomes hard and turns into tartar (also known as calculus). Once such tartar has formed, it can often only be removed by a dentist or dental hygienist. Both dental plaque and tartar contain harmful bacteria which can start to irritate the gums and result in gingivitis if not removed. If left untreated, gum disease may spread to the bone in which the teeth sit, and lead to a more serious condition known as periodontal disease. While gingivitis doesn’t leave you with permanent damage to teeth or tissue, the inflammation and infection of bone below the gums in periodontal disease may have more severe consequences, including a loss of teeth and an increased risk of stroke and heart attack. In the majority of cases, gum disease is caused by improper oral hygiene. There are, however, a number of other factors that can increase the risk of gingivitis. Smoking (or chewing tobacco) prevents inflamed gums from healing properly. Diabetes and deficiencies in certain nutrients, including vitamin C, have a similar effect.


A diet rich in carbohydrates and sugar, but low in the water, can lead to the rapid formation of plaque, while changes in hormone levels experienced during puberty, pregnancy, menstruation, and menopause can make the blood vessels in the gums more susceptible to bacterial attack. Some medicines can promote gum disease because they reduce the flow of saliva, which has a protective effect on the gums and teeth. These include steroids, oral contraceptives, and drugs used to treat angina (chest pain). Crooked, overlapping or rotated teeth, as well as broken fillings, provide hard-to-clean areas for dental plaque and tartar to build up. Some people have a genetic disposition to develop gingivitis – so take particular care if other members of your family suffer from the condition.
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