Gums are the soft tissues that surround the teeth and provide a seal around them, maintaining them in the bone. When healthy, your gums provide an effective barrier to food and bacteria, and keep your teeth securely in place. Although keeping your teeth cavity-free and clean is important, if your gums aren’t healthy, the foundation of your teeth can become compromised and weakened.
One condition that should make you sit up and notice is receding gums, also known as gingival recession. Gum recession is a loss of gum tissue, or a retraction from the gum line… essentially the gums begin to “pull back” from the teeth. This can cause exposure to the roots of the teeth, and make your teeth look longer. It usually means the gum tissue has begun to thin as well, and this recession can do more than just affect the look of your teeth: It can also affect your health.
If you have gum recession, you may notice some of these symptoms:
- Tooth sensitivity (like pain when you brush, or when you drink hot or cold liquids)
- Teeth that feel loose
- The tooth feels “notched” at the gum line
- Visibly longer teeth
- Red, tender, or swollen gums
- Mouth sores
- Frequent bad breath
- A change in the way your teeth fit together
What causes Gum Recession?
The most common cause of recession is gum disease (periodontal disease). In its early stages, called gingivitis, the gums become swollen, red, and may bleed. As it becomes more serious, it becomes periodontitis, which can cause the gums to pull away from the teeth. Bone loss can occur, and teeth may even loosen and fall out. Other things that can contribute to gum recession are:
- You’re doing it wrong. You want your teeth to be as clean as possible, but if you’re brushing too hard, you could be damaging your gums. Try holding your toothbrush with just your fingertips, to lessen the pressure you may be using, if you are an aggressive brusher. And even if you don’t brush too hard, you may be buying the wrong kind of toothbrush: A soft bristle brush is what you need, and it should be replaced every few months.
- You may be a night-grinder. Do you ever wake up in the morning with tired or sore jaws or teeth? If so, you may be grinding your teeth in your sleep. Teeth-grinding, called bruxism, can cause small amounts of movement in your teeth. If you think you may be grinding, talk to your dentist about being fitted for a nightguard to protect your teeth while you sleep.
- Yes, you should floss… just don’t overdo it. Just like with brushing, too little can be harmful, but so can too much. If you don’t floss, food can become lodged at the gum line, and eventually cause disease. If you floss too roughly or aggressively, you could cut into the gums.
- Too much of a good thing. Okay, this one you learned in grade school, but it bears repeating. The foods you eat can have a huge impact on your teeth, especially sugary foods. Watch out for acidic foods, such as sodas, coffee, and citrus fruits, and avoid foods full of sugar, such as hard candies, desserts, and sports drinks. All of these types of foods can harm your teeth and irritate your gums. Instead, eat more fiber-rich foods, fruits and vegetables, and healthy fats.
- Mouth piercings. A lip or tongue piercing can result in irritation that wears away at the gums.
- Genetics. Not much you can do to avoid this one, but if your parents had gum recession or periodontal disease, there’s a higher chance you will too. If so, be extra diligent about protecting your gums, just in case.
- Using tobacco. Whether you smoke or chew, tobacco is a no-no in regards to the health of your teeth and gums. Tobacco use may be one of the most significant risk factors in the development and progression of periodontal disease. (If you are ready to quit and need help, speak to your doctor.)
Gums are your body’s first line of defense of the foundation of your teeth. The more recession your gums have, the faster bacteria can travel down the tooth to the bone below. And left untreated, gum recession can lead not only to periodontal disease, but also to other health issues. Research has shown that periodontal disease is associated with several other diseases, such as heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and more. For a long time it was thought that bacteria was the factor that linked periodontal disease to other disease in the body; however, more recent research demonstrates that inflammation may be responsible for the association.*
According to the American Academy of Periodontology, data from the CDC shows that more than 70 percent of Americans over the age of 65 have gum disease. The odds go up if you have any of the risk factors listed above. If so, speak with your dentist about what your oral care routine should look like. Identifying symptoms of gum disease early is key to protecting your teeth and gums, so call us for a consultation today.
The old adage “You Are What You Eat” is true in many ways, as nutrition is one of the most important factors in a healthy lifestyle. Combined with physical activity, your diet can help you to reach and maintain a healthy weight, reduce your risk of chronic diseases (like heart disease and cancer), and promote your overall health. The foods you eat and how often you eat them can affect the health of your teeth and gums as well.
If you have children in the home, you also know that feeding your kids a healthy diet is one of the greatest parenting challenges you must undertake. Research shows that their early food experiences and your feeding strategies while they are young set the groundwork for their entire lives.
Even if you know there are unhealthy eating habits in your family, it is never too late to make corrections. There are some simple clean eating steps that you can take in your home, starting right now:
Be a Model For Your Children
It’s simply psychology: If we want our children to take care of their bodies, we must show them that we take care of our own. They see what we eat and how often we exercise, and they hear us when we talk about our own bodies. Do they hear you criticize your body, or do they know you are happy in your own skin? When you are hungry for a snack, what do they see you grab on the go? Are you open to trying new foods, or do you eat the same foods over and over?
Time for a Purge
Maybe you have a great strategy for mealtimes, and are working hard to provide healthy, nutritional meals. But what about the snacks in between? Every child (and parent) has a favorite snack or three, and a lot of Americans rely on salty, sugary, crunchy snacks between meals. You don’t necessarily need to dump those completely, but perhaps they should be reserved for special occasions. The problem occurs when your child sees those snacks in the pantry though, and refuses to eat anything else. Maybe the next time you shop, you should skip putting that unhealthy snack into the cart, and begin to purge your pantry of the less desirable foods.
Your child may not like it at first, but they can survive (and thrive!) without these types of foods. Fill your pantry with healthy snacks only, and you will probably find that they will begin to be drawn to healthier snacks naturally. And remember: it’s easier to get your child to focus on their nutritious meals if they are not distracted by unhealthy snacks in the pantry.
Can We Ditch the Label?
Everyone knows a “picky eater” when they see one, and has probably seen the mealtime struggles that can occur when a child likes only a few things. But by labeling a child a picky eater, are we creating more issues than we should? A child who hears that label may be getting a clear signal that we have low expectations from them about what they will eat, and will continue to be afraid to try new foods.
A child’s relationship with food is constantly evolving, so perhaps our expectations should evolve with them instead. A toddler may hate broccoli one day, but love it a month later. When we see the potential for healthy nutritional habits in our child, we will continue to introduce new foods to them as they grow and develop.
Make the Time to Cook with Your Kids
Cooking with children can help them understand how their food ends up on their plate. Yes, it can also be time-consuming and at times frustrating, but in the end we are engaging children in the process of creating healthy meals. They can gain skills they will carry throughout their lives, and yet they are skills we often fail to teach our children.
Cooking is also a sensory activity that teaches motor skills, and can give your child a true sense of accomplishment. So let them help wash the vegetables, turn on the blender for you, add spices and dressings, or any task that you know they can handle. An added benefit is as they get older, you will find that they are a big help to you in meal prep!
Don’t Be Afraid to Try New Foods Yourself
We all have our favorite foods, and our own diets are often limited to what we like the most. Perhaps that is because those are the foods that you were introduced to in childhood. What we feed our children influences their tastes and preferences, which they will then carry throughout their lives. We discover their favorite foods, and continue to feed that to them, instead of constantly adding new foods. So maybe the challenge is to try foods, as a family, that may even be new to us.
It can take 8-10 tries for a child to develop a taste for a new food or texture. And what they don’t like at age two, they may love at age five. The trick could be to create meals with foods they love, while introducing new foods to go with them. Challenge their taste buds (as well as your own), and find ways to explore new foods together as a family. Make discovering new foods a family adventure!
Make Mealtime Count
In today’s busy world, finding time to sit down as a family to enjoy a meal can be difficult. But prioritizing mealtime can be a powerful way to impact your child’s eating habits. A meal should be a time to slow down and connect with one another, and to celebrate the nourishment that food gives us. Too often it becomes a stressful battlefield of wills, trying to get a child to eat. Instead, we should focus on modeling the good eating habits we want to see in our child, and avoid the power struggles around food as much as possible.
The most important lesson is to relax. It’s not going to go well at every meal, but celebrate the successes when you can, and don’t sweat the rest.
For more tips, read “So You Want Your Family To Eat Healthy: Here’s Everything You Need To Know” at MindBodyGreen.