Nearly half of American adults have gum disease, and the condition causes more problems than swelling, bleeding, and bad breath. Gum disease is connected to heart disease, too. Fortunately, there are many ways you can combat it. Prevention starts with establishing a strong dental care routine: brushing and flossing — with the appropriate techniques — every day. However, these preventative dental care steps are just the beginning. From paying closer attention to the mouth to incorporating better overall lifestyle habits, you can significantly reduce the chances of developing gum disease.
How to reduce the risk of gum disease
Brush twice per day
Brushing for two minutes twice every day removes plaque from the teeth and gum line before it hardens into tartar and causes inflammation or infection. A 2018 study showed that those who brush twice a day for at least two minutes are three times less likely to develop heart disease1 than those who don’t follow those requirements. It’s important, however, to use the proper techniques to maximize the effectiveness of this task.
Dentists recommend using fluoride toothpaste to keep enamel — which protects the teeth against cavities — from breaking down. When brushing, the bristles should face your gum line at a 45-degree angle to clean both the teeth and gums adequately. Use a circular motion on the inner and outer portions of your teeth to cover the entire surface as well as the gum line. On the chewing surfaces, a simple back-and-forth motion will suffice. To get behind the front teeth, tilt the brush vertically and move the brush up and down. Be gentle, however; brushing too hard can wear down enamel.
Timing is also important. The American Dental Association says the average person only brushes for 45 seconds per session2 — well short of their two-minute recommendation. According to the International Journal of Dental Hygiene3, people who brush for one minute can eliminate, on average, 27% of plaque on their teeth. When they increase the time to two minutes, the rate jumps to 41%.
Dentists usually recommend brushing in the morning to get rid of acid and bacteria buildup that occur overnight and at night to ensure plaque doesn’t sit in your mouth all night. Some studies have found that brushing right after lunch and before bed is most effective at preventing gum disease4. The most important takeaway, however, is that everyone should brush twice a day.
The ADA recommends waiting to brush for at least 60 minutes after eating or drinking acidic foods or beverages, such as pickles, oranges, tomatoes, beer, soda, and coffee. Acidic foods and drinks weaken enamel, so brushing too soon can wear this protective layer away. By waiting an hour, saliva has time to neutralize the acids and repair early damage.
Floss at least once every day
The ADA recommends flossing once a day. However, surveys have shown anywhere from 16%5 to 30%6 of people say they floss every day — and many people admit to exaggerating reports of their flossing habits7. Without flossing, plaque gets left between teeth and increases the risk of decay and gum disease. One study found that the risk of periodontitis8 was 40% higher for people who don’t floss or only do so once per week. Those who flossed more than once saw their risk decreased by 17%.
Like brushing, flossing is most effective with the proper technique. Take an 18-inch piece of floss and wrap the ends around both middle fingers. Hold the remaining two or three inches between your thumbs and index fingers. Gently slide it up and down and make a C shape as your wrap it around each tooth. Move slowly, and do not force or snap the floss between teeth because this damages the gums.
You should ideally floss when you brush at night to remove the day’s worth of food buildup. The order in which you do so matters as well. Recent research found that flossing before brushing eliminates more plaque9. Note that flossing is still imperative even if you’re experiencing swelling and bleeding from gingivitis — just be gentle. Avoiding flossing because of these symptoms will only exacerbate inflammation and could ultimately lead to periodontitis, a more serious form of gum disease.
Replace your toothbrush regularly
Naturally, when you use a toothbrush twice per day, it will wear out over time. Replace it every three to four months or whenever the bristles start to fray or bend. If you have an electric toothbrush, replace the head on the same schedule. As bristles wear down, they’re significantly less effective at removing plaque10, increasing the risk of gum disease. A toothbrush will also accumulate bacteria over time, and rinsing can’t remove all of it.
Read more tips on taking care of your toothbrush
Visit the dentist twice annually
Brushing and flossing your teeth twice a day will remove the majority of plaque. A dentist will take care of the rest during a cleaning. During biannual visits, your dentist will use a tool called a scaler to scrape away plaque buildup. If plaque on your teeth hardens into tartar, this is the only way to remove it. The dentist will then use a powerful electric brush and floss your teeth to remove any tartar or plaque left behind. You should also tell your dentist if you’re experiencing any symptoms of gum disease — such as redness, swelling, tenderness, bleeding, loose teeth, bad breath, or pus — so they can treat it.
Get advice on how to find a dentist for you
The Beam difference
Beam Dental aims to make adopting healthy dental habits easy. As part of our comprehensive dental plans, we cover basic services such as cleanings, X-rays, and fillings as well as major services such as mouthguards, dental implants, and oral surgery. Check your dental plan to see what services may be covered. What really sets us apart is providing Beam Perks — which include a sonic toothbrush, replacement heads, fluoride toothpaste, and floss — to every member.
With the mobile app that syncs to the Beam Brush via BlueTooth, users can track their brushing times to ensure they’re using the full two minutes during each session, track their usage over time, and get notifications when it’s time to change their brush heads. Groups and members can then potentially save money on premiums at renewal based on their brushing habits. As a result of these incentives, when users begin using the brush, they brush two times longer than the ADA’s 45-second estimation for the average person.
The brush also has features that make the two-minute guideline easy to follow. The brush can be set to turn off automatically after two minutes and buzz every 30 seconds to alert users that they should switch to another quadrant of their mouth. Not only does the technology ensure people are brushing long enough, but it also helps them clean their mouths as thoroughly as possible. These capabilities combine to create a thorough cleaning experience for each user.
As Beam continues to rapidly grow, this unique approach to dental benefits should continue to help people nationwide follow proper dental care habits. Hopefully, this will have wide-reaching effects and help prevent not only gum disease but also encourage full-body health and decrease the risk of developing heart disease.