Inadequate brushing and flossing leaves particles of food and drink on the gums and teeth, which attract bacteria that turn into the sticky film called plaque. If that is not cleaned off within a few days it can harden into tartar, which has to be removed by a dental hygienist. Otherwise, this periodontal infection will eventually cause the gums to pull back their support for teeth, which will fall out or need to be removed. Plaque can also cause cavities that become so large that teeth have to be extracted.
The two top tips to prevent these things from happening:
First, if you have not had a recent physical dental exam by Dr. Louie, you should know that the American Dental Association recommends that this be done twice a year to catch oral problems in their early stages. If he suspects there may be cavities that are hidden or a periodontal infection that may have reached into the jawbone, you will need a digital x-ray (involving minimal radiation).
Second, you should also receive a professional cleaning by your hygienist at least semi-annually, more often if she probes and discovers deep gum infections. She has the tools and techniques to do a much better job of cleaning hard-to-reach areas of your mouth than you can. She will also inject an antibacterial solution if needed to stop a serious infection. She can also note when even this is not enough and cleaning needs to be done below the gum line by Dr. Louie.
Brushing and Flossing
Of course, brushing and flossing correctly can prevent plaque formation, but few of us grew up understanding exactly how to do this. Brushing needs to be done twice a day for two minutes each time, ideally after breakfast (which will allow you to remove both the food particles from the meal, as well as the bacteria that collects in the mouth overnight) and then after your last snack at night, when you floss. If you are not sure exactly how to do this, ask your hygienist to show you.
There are other tools your dentist or hygienist can recommend for your plaque prevention and removal, such as an electric toothbrush, a water flosser, small bristle brushes that can clean tight spaces, a periodontal-grade toothpaste, and a dentist-approved mouthwash.
Drinking more water and chewing gum with xylitol (a bacteria-fighting sweetener) will prevent your mouth from getting dry and not forming sufficient saliva, which also keeps periodontal bacteria in check. Ultimately, if you eat a healthy diet of proteins, good fats, and complex (not refined) carbohydrates, such as whole grains, seeds, nuts, peas, and vegetables, you are far less likely to create the conditions in your mouth for plaque to develop.
But if your gums have already started to bleed, you have an advanced periodontal infection and need to call today to set up an appointment for an exam.