When it comes to having a healthy smile, it all starts with the gums

Getting a dental exam

Healthy teeth depend on healthy gums. Gums protect the base of the teeth, where connective tissue anchors them to bone. But if you neglect taking care of your gums, it can lead to tooth loss.

There are two major types of gum disease: gingivitis and periodontitis. Gingivitis occurs when bacteria collects in tiny pockets at the gum line. The result is inflammation of your gums. The most common gingivitis symptom is when your gums bleed after your brush your teeth. You may also experience persistent bad breath when you have gingivitis.

The symptoms of periodontitis include receding gums, inflammation, and pain along your gums. You may also experience unusual sensitivity to temperature changes. If you leave periodontitis untreated, your teeth may become loose and fall out.

Fortunately, there's plenty you can do to keep gums healthy.

Visit your dentist regularly

Regular dental checkups are very important, according to Sam Low, the American Academy of Periodontology president. Low has a warning for people who skip dental checkups. He said most people don't notice any of the gum disease warning signs. By the time they do, "it may be too late to reverse the damage," Low says.

With regular checkups, your dentist can monitor the condition of your gum tissue. Your dentist can note any erosion that has taken place. Dental X-rays can also show early signs of gum disease.

Experts say that early detection of gum disease is far more important than we used to think. Advanced gum disease can cause tooth loss. It may also lead to other health problems, like infections and bone loss.

Take care of your teeth every day

Besides your dentist, the biggest fighter of gum disease is you. Proper dental hygiene can go a long way toward preventing gum disease. And the best news is that you probably already know what it takes.

But it never hurts to "brush up" on the best ways to maintain healthy gums. Dr. Low advises you to follow these steps:

  • Brush your teeth at least twice a day, for two minutes.
  • Floss daily.
  • Use antibacterial mouth rinses for even more protection.
  • Quit smoking. Tobacco use increases the danger of gum disease by damaging gum tissue and increasing inflammation.

Make these tips part of your everyday routine. You'll greatly lower your chances of getting gingivitis or any gum disease. Plus, you can keep your teeth looking good year after year.

Last updated April 2014

Live healthy and leak-free

Bladder control problems are common. Learn how to take charge of your bladder health.

Read about urinary incontinence

Bent out of shape by back pain?

Find out what you need to know about common causes, diagnosis and treatment.

Read about back pain basics

Get your diabetes risk under control

From tests to lifestyle management, learn how to reduce your chances of developing diabetes.

Read about diabetes risk management