A little redness, some swelling, a tiny bit of blood when we brush our teeth—our gums can tell us a lot about our oral health and our overall well-being, too. So, what are our gums saying when they’re not looking or feeling as they normally do and when is it time to see a professional? The oral health specialists we’ve spoken to say gum disease can be a precursor to a variety of underlying issues. Here’s what to know.
“The colors of your gum tissues can provide clues to systemic diseases,” says Rockville, MD cosmetic dentist Joe Kravitz, DDS. “The color of your gums can change to black, yellow, orange, green, red purple and brown. Each color or blend of colors can provide clues that other health problems can be occurring, heart attack, stroke, Alzheimer’s, acid reflux, pneumonia, cancer, diabetes and multiple sclerosis.”
Sensitivity and Swelling
“I tell my patients to routinely check the color of their gums and any swelling they see or feel—that is usually the warning that something needs to be checked by our office,” adds Atlanta, GA cosmetic dentist Ronald Goldstein, DDS. “This sensitivity differs from the almost common occurrence where a piece of food, popcorn kernel, small crust of bread, or piece of meat or chicken gets lodged in-between the teeth causing the gum tissue to swell. Failure to curb early warnings such as chronic sensitivity or failure to see your hygienist and dentist at least three times yearly can lead to bone loss and periodontal disease. If not discovered and treated the disease can affect your systemic health.”
Home care is step one to getting healthier gums. “This should consist of using dental tape or floss after meals or at least after dinner, brushing correctly and using a water flossing device such as Hydro Floss to make sure you are removing all the left-over food particles after flossing,” recommends Dr. Goldstein. And when you’re flossing, don’t be too rough, says the dentist. “Learning to floss correctly is also important since I have seen numerous patients who floss so fast, they ‘guillotine’ the tissue between the teeth. That interdental tissue tends to protect from food particles going below the gum tissue.”
Dr. Kravitz says think of your oral care in terms of minutes, seven minutes to be exact. “Rinse your mouth with water within 7 minutes of eating or drinking,” he advises. “It only takes seven minutes from the time you finish eating or drinking for acid damage to gum tissues to begin. Brushing your teeth twice a day is not enough.”
Of course, there are some things you cannot detect at home, says Dr. Goldstein: “The main thing is to make sure you are getting periodic X-rays and tissue probing which can forecast potential problems you may not be aware of.”