Your mouth supports an ecosystem of 400+ species of microorganisms, mostly bacteria. Billions and billions of them grow in layers, loyally attached to your teeth’s surfaces, well-fed off your sugar-rich breakfast, and secured beneath a protective, slimy, polyscharride matrix.
Good floss loosens and scrubs away plaque – that smelly, goopy mix of bacteria and polysaccharide slime – that your toothbrush can’t reach, and helps keep bacteria populations in check. Without adequate flossing, plaque grows, creating calcified deposits (tartar). Tartar can only be removed professionally, and serves as an ever-more inviting home for fresh plaque to accumulate (if you're brave, see what we mean here). With tartar build up, it’s plaque party time.
The bacteria in our plaque release toxins. When plaque growth is uncontrolled, our gums – sensing toxins and unchecked bacterial growth – become irritated and inflamed. Gum inflammation activates your osteoclasts, cells that nibble at and break down your jaw bone tissue. Your bone breaks down to retreat from the bacterial infection, and gum recession becomes visible. If the bacterial infection is untreated, bone loss continues. Gradually, your teeth lose the much-needed support of your jaw bone. Teeth wiggle. Then teeth fall out.
Gum disease is a chronic bacterial infection that causes inflammation in your gums and the supporting structures of your teeth. Think you’re immune? One in two Americans has some form of gum disease!
Gingivitis is the earliest stage of gum disease when your gums, a.k.a. gingiva, are inflamed. Gums look puffy and red, and might bleed when you brush or floss.
Periodontitis is a more advanced stage of gum disease. It develops when plaque accumulates along your gum line and causes inflammation in the supporting structures of your teeth – bone, gums, ligaments.
You know those numbers, 2-2-3, 3-2-3, that you’ve heard your hygienist read out? Your hygienist is measuring the depth of spaces that are naturally found between your teeth and gums, which aid in diagnosing the health of your gums and bone. An instrument called a "periodontal probe" is used to take depth measurements, usually 6 measurements per tooth.
A normal, healthy pocket depth ranges from 1 to 3 millimeters. In early gum disease or gingivitis, pockets depth ranges from 4 to 5 mm. As gum disease progresses, pockets deepen as the bone supporting your teeth recedes.
Bleeding is one of many signs of inflammation in your gums and can be a warning sign of gingivitis.
Gums become inflamed when they're surrounded by plaque or tartar. Keeping your teeth clean will help minimize the bleeding. When gums are healthy, they don't bleed at all and flossing is more comfortable.
Gum disease is correlated with other body ailments including heart disease, HPV infection, mouth cancers, diabetes and kidney failure.
In addition, gum health can help you maintain fresher breath. Bacteria thrive in the dark, moist, oxygen-poor areas of our mouth. I.e., our stinky bacteria love to hang out in between our teeth and on our gum lines. This is why the plaque on your dental floss is often so especially fragrant (see what causes bad breath here).