You probably think of your teeth when you think of your oral health, but you may not give much thought to your gums. They’re just as important, however. Gum disease causes red, swollen gums and, in its most severe form, can lead to loose teeth and pockets of infection between your teeth and gums.
Being proactive and taking care of your gums can lower your risk of developing gum disease. Follow these five tips for healthier gums:
1. Brush properly at least twice a day.
Brushing your teeth at least twice a day is the first line of defense against gum disease. That’s because it helps to remove plaque from your teeth.
Use a soft-bristled toothbrush and toothpaste with fluoride. Place your toothbrush at a 45-degree angle against your gums, and brush gently with short strokes. Use short, back-and-forth strokes to clean the outer surfaces of your teeth, and brush the inner upper-front teeth using short, downward strokes. Clean the chewing surfaces of your teeth by using short back-and-forth strokes.
Pro tip: Don’t wait for your toothbrush bristles to become frayed before you replace your toothbrush. You need a new one every three to four months, and you should also replace your toothbrush if you’ve been sick.
2. Floss once a day.
Flossing at least once a day is an important step in avoiding gum disease. It removes food and plaque from between your teeth and gum line, which reduces your risk of tartar forming.
Tartar is bacteria that builds up and becomes hard, and it can’t be removed by brushing—only a dentist can remove tartar. If tartar is allowed to form, it can lead to gum disease.
Pro tip: If flossing is difficult or uncomfortable, try using soft floss, dental picks, or flossers.
3. Get regular dental checkups.
Visit the dentist regularly for professional cleanings, which are the only way to remove tartar from your teeth. These appointments also allow your dentist to identify gum problems in their earliest stages, when they’re easiest to treat.
Pro tip: Visit your dentist at least twice a year. You may need more frequent visits if you develop oral health problems.
4. Use mouthwash daily.
Mouthwash provides a variety of dental health benefits. Rinsing with an anti-gingivitis mouthwash daily can kill plaque- and tartar-causing bacteria that can lead to gum disease.
Pro tip: It doesn’t matter whether you use mouthwash before or after you brush, as long as you use it. Just swish it in your mouth for 30 to 60 seconds.
5. Stop smoking.
Smoking cigarettes weakens your immune system and makes you more susceptible to gum disease. It may also interfere with the normal function of gum tissue cells and impair blood flow to the gums.
Pro tip: Cigars, smokeless tobacco, and other tobacco products also harm your gums and oral health.