Your Guide to Gum Disease Symptoms and Heart Dis (cont.)

Other conditions and problems can increase your risk of developing periodontal disease. They include:

  • Certain illnesses. Any conditions that affect your immune system or your ability to heal, including diabetes and arthritis, can put you at higher risk of periodontal disease.
  • Side effects to medication. To have a healthy mouth, you need plenty of saliva to fight bacteria. However, many drugs, such as those for depression, heart disease, and other conditions, can cause a dry mouth, which can make you more prone to infection.

Here are some tips to prevent gum disease and dental problems:

  • Brush your teeth twice a day. Cram cautions that while we all think we know how to brush our teeth, many of us don't. "It's not just how often you brush, but how thoroughly you do it," says Cram.

    Bad brushing technique can actually make gum disease worse. "If you brush too hard from side to side, you can miss the pockets of plaque and actually abrade or tear the gums," says Cram. "That can lead to more infection." Instead, make a circular motion with your toothbrush, which helps the bristles clear out any debris in the gaps between the gums and teeth.

    Cram strongly recommends that you check in with your dentist or dental hygienist to make sure that you've got good technique. You can also see how to brush and floss well with the animated WebMD Health tool, Brushing Your Teeth Properly.

  • Floss at least once a day. Again, Cram says that though flossing seems easy, many people don't do it well. She recommends that you ask your dentist or dental hygienist if you're doing it properly. See the tool above for flossing tips.
  • Use antiseptic mouthwash and toothpaste, if your dentist recommends it. These aren't necessary for everyone, but Cram says that they can help some people who have trouble controlling the amount of plaque and bacteria in their mouths.
  • Get regular checkups and cleanings. Most people should have a checkup every six months, but some people may need more frequent visits, says Gordon Douglass, DDS, past president of the American Academy of Periodontology.
  • Eat healthy foods. "Vitamin deficiencies can make it harder for your body to fight off infection and heal," Cram tells WebMD. "So make sure to eat a good balanced diet with adequate vitamins and nutrients."
  • Stop smoking. Here's yet another reason to kick the habit. According to the American Academy of Periodontology, smoking may be one of the most significant risk factors for periodontal disease.

"The good news is that, with a commonsense approach, periodontal disease is totally preventable," says Cram. Which may turn out to be great news for your heart as well.

Published April 4, 2005.


SOURCES: Gordon Douglass, DDS, past president, American Academy of Periodontology. Sally Cram, DDS, spokeswoman, American Dental Association. The Cleveland Clinic. American Heart Association. American Dental Association. American Academy of Periodontology.

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Last Editorial Review: 4/6/2005 7:02:12 PM