Learn about gum disease and swollen gums

Brush up on gum care and keep the swelling down

A dentist and his dental assistant examining the patient's teeth

According to the National Institutes of Health, many adults in the U.S. have some form of gum disease. This can range from minor swelling and inflammation to serious problems that can permanently damage the gums, teeth and supporting bones.

Gum disease is caused by plaque that collects in and around the teeth over time. Not only can this damage your teeth and lead to infections, it can also affect your overall health.

Swelling—a symptom of gum disease

Regular brushing, flossing and visits to the dentist are the best way to keep dental plaque from building up. But if you don’t remove enough plaque, swelling can be an early sign something is wrong. Swollen gums can bulge to the point that they overlap the surface of the teeth, which can cause bacteria and food debris to get trapped. This can make your gum disease worse. Soon the gums may get infected, possibily leading to advanced forms of gum disease, called gingivitis and periodontitis.

If you have swollen gums, see a dentist right away—especially if the swelling is accompanied by tenderness, sensitivity or bleeding when you brush or floss.

Connections to general health

Gum disease is obviously bad for your oral health, but it may also be connected to other important health issues. While it may sound strange, scientists and doctors increasingly believe that gum disease may be linked to everything from heart disease and diabetes to rheumatoid arthritis (RA), pneumonia and even cancer.

For example the American Academy of Periodontology (AAP) says, “Several studies have shown that periodontal disease is associated with heart disease. While a cause-and-effect relationship has not yet been proven, research has indicated that periodontal disease increases the risk of heart disease.” The AAP recommends heart doctors ask patients if they have a history of gum disease problems.

Heart disease is just the beginning of larger concerns related to oral health. Research also shows a link between gum disease and other health problems, including:

  • Diabetes – Diabetics are more likely to have gum disease because they are more likely to contract infections.
  • Dementia – Gum disease has been found to raise the risk of cognitive impairment later in life.
  • Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) – When treated for gum disease, people with RA had less joint pain, swelling and stiffness.
  • Premature birth – Studies show that pregnant mothers whose gum disease is treated may be more likely to carry their babies to term.

The good news is it’s easy to take care of your teeth and gums.

  • Brush after meals (at least twice a day) with fluoride toothpaste.
  • Floss daily and use an antimicrobial mouthwash to keep the bacteria at bay.
  • Visit your dentist at least twice a year.
  • Ask your dentist if you need your teeth coated or sealed.

These simple steps can help keep not just your mouth but your whole body healthy for years to come.

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