While teeth are often the most talked-about attribute of a beautiful smile, cosmetic dentists say honing in on gum health is the number-one way to keep a grin looking and feeling healthy.
According to the CDC, gum disease, otherwise known as periodontitis, effects nearly 50 percent of adults age 30 and older. This slow-forming issue doesn’t solely mean a not-so-pretty smile, but it’s also linked to tooth loss, heart disease and even diabetes. How to prevent the gum-attacker before it shows itself: It’s as simple as implementing a solid oral care routine and visiting the dentist or oral hygienist every four to six months.
While all forms of gum disease are dangerous, Beverly Hills, CA cosmetic dentist Katherine Ahn Wallace, DDS says “gingivitis and periodontitis are the two most common types, but they differ in many ways.” Gingivitis, the only stage of periodontal disease that is reversible, is the first stage of gum disease, but New York cosmetic dentist Irene Grafman, DDS says it can be difficult to detect. “Because the initial stages of gum disease are not associated with pain, many people disregard it until it’s too late,” she adds. That’s when the irreversible and extremely dangerous second stage of gum disease sets in: periodontitis.
Dr. Grafman explains that sensitive gums are among the first warning signs for gum disease. Also on the list: red, swollen gums and halitosis. When gum disease progresses to periodontitis, symptoms can advance to shifting teeth and even tooth loss.
“There’s a link between periodontal issues and heart issues,” warns New York cosmetic dentist Jason Kasarsky, DDS. “If your heart is experiencing problems, take a closer look at your gum tissue. Oftentimes, there’s a noticeable increased bacterial count, leading to infection.”
What people don’t realize is that more teeth are lost due to unhealthy gums than decay
—Dr. Jason Kasarsky
Taking proper care of the teeth and gums from the start is the best way to avoid gum disease. “While flossing is crucial for maintaining a healthy smile, many people skip out on it or do it incorrectly,” says Houston cosmetic dentist Guy M. Lewis, DDS. Thankfully, Atlanta cosmetic dentist Ronald Goldstein, DDS offers some simple tips for how to do it right: “Carefully clean one side of the tooth with the floss, then gently raise the floss to the contact area, and then cleanse the other surface,” he explains, warning not to “guillotine your gum tissue.”
If gum disease is present, the gums may appear receded, making the teeth look longer. Even without gum disease in the mix, these expert-approved aesthetic procedures can help patients improve their smiles:
“Gum contouring, also known as crown lengthening, is changing either the position or the shape of the gum line around the tooth,” explains Prospect, KY cosmetic dentist Sara Cummins, DMD. “To optimize the aesthetics of a smile, the tissue levels and shapes are symmetrical from right to left.”
“When there is excess gum covering the tops of the teeth, it makes teeth appear shorter,” says Dr. Lewis, referring to this as a “gummy smile.” To address it, he uses the diode laser, which Dr. Kasarsky says “harnesses energy to remove excess gum tissue and increase tooth height,” because it causes zero pain and requires no downtime. Like gum contouring, a gum lift may be needed prior to veneers or crowns. A gum lift can also be performed to correct an uneven gum line, focusing on the tops of the teeth to create a more aesthetic and ideal gum line.
If a patient did a poor job at looking after their teeth throughout their life, they’re in the late stages of gum disease, or they’re prone to grinding their teeth, it’s typical to notice signs of gum recession. “When recession occurs, small ‘pockets’ form between the teeth and the gum tissue, which is where bacteria likes to fester,” Dr. Lewis explains. “A gum graft reduces the depth of the pockets, and a small amount of new tissue is placed where recession is occurring.”
Dr. Cummins says this procedure can be done in two different ways: “The donor tissue can be removed from other areas of the patient’s mouth and transferred to the graft site, or cadaver tissue can be used that has been specially treated for use in these cases.”
Curaprox Hydrosonic Pro ($200) gently removes plaque behind tooth implants, between braces, around crowns, and in the back of the mouth for clean gums and pearly whites.
For those who typically use their water flosser in the shower to minimize the mess, Toothshower Suite 2.0 ($100) attaches to the showerhead for an efficient experience that leaves mouths feeling squeaky-clean
Klēn Expanding Natural Mint Floss ($10) loosens the buildup of plaque from beneath teeth with its unique expanding mechanism that allows it to “puff out” during usage and suck up bacteria like a sponge.
Eco-conscious Plus Ultra Natural Gel Toothpaste ($10) is made with aloe vera juice, bamboo extract and peppermint, and helps clear away plaque and bacteria from every corner of the mouth.
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