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What your gums are telling you

Vicki Salemi is passionate about writing. As a regular contributor to AOL, MSN and numerous sites and publications she also blogs regularly for CNBC European Business, Women for Hire and Manhattan adventures on her website www.vickisalem...

Dental disease and your health

As you're brushing your teeth do you notice your gums are a little bit redder than normal? Or perhaps they even start bleeding? Or maybe during the day you notice an irritation around a tooth? Well, sometimes a swollen gum or irritation around your tooth may not be as simple as going to the dentist: There could be deeper health issues at hand.

Woman FlossingRed gums = red flags

Celebrity cosmetic dentist Dr Jennifer Jablow indicates that swollen gums are a red flag to perhaps bigger medical ailments. "Swollen gums are a sign of inflammation which can indicate that an inflammatory process can be affecting the rest of the body. Chronic inflammation puts us at higher risk for stroke, heart disease, Alzheimer's and premature births."

She recommends a deep cleaning at the dental office in which the patient should be placed in a regular recall program. She notes, "A local antibiotic may be placed by the dentist in the gum crevices that are deep and swollen." She adds, "Bad breath, bleeding gums or even pus in the gums should be attended to by the dentist."

When excess plaque builds up on your teeth, this could be a sign of potential diabetes. High blood glucose helps the germs grow. The result is red, sore and swollen gums. People with diabetes may be susceptible to tooth and gum problems more often if their blood glucose stays high.

Got plaque?

Even bad breath can be attributed to a larger health issue like gum disease, tooth decay or mouth cancer. In fact, bad breath may also be associated with HIV, liver disease, kidney disorders, diabetes or sinus issues.

More gum troubles, like bleeding, may imply larger health issues like anemia, lack of vitamins (K or C) or hormonal changes. Constant bleeding is definitely a red flag and may result in your dentist suggesting you see a doctor for tests to rule out leukemia, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, respiratory problems or malnutrition.

According to a study published by the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, puffy, bleeding gums may also increase your risk of pancreative cancer. Bottom line: Red gums are a red flag to your overall health.

Dr Nancy Rosen, an Oral B dentist, underscores the importance of regularly visiting a dentist. "Patients should visit their dentist for regular visits twice a year. Even if you're not paying attention to your gums, your dentist will. Your gums can often be the first sign of an issue like diabetes."

Healthy habits to prevent gum disease

Like any health issue, the key is preventative care. The first step to healthy gums and preventing serious health issues is going to see your dentist. "At minimum, people with healthy gums should be seen two times per year for a cleaning," says Dr Jablow. Regular flossing and an electric toothbrush are also necessary to keep the mouth healthy. Of course, don't wait for your semi-annual dental visit if you see anything unusual happening in your gums or experience gum or teeth pain. Get it checked out immediately.

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