4 tips for reducing the risk of gum disease

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Nearly half of U.S. adults have gum disease, and the condition causes more problems than just swelling, bleeding, and bad breath.

Nearly half of U.S. adults have gum disease, and the condition causes more problems than just 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.1

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. According to research, individuals who brush twice a day for at least two minutes can decrease the risk of developing heart disease by as much as three times.2

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.3

Timing is also important. The American Dental Association says the average person only brushes for 45 seconds per session4 — well short of their two-minute recommendation. According to the International Journal of Dental Hygiene,5 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 disease.6 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,7 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 that about 30%8 of people say they floss every day — and many people admit to exaggerating reports of their flossing habits. Without flossing, plaque gets left between teeth and increases the risk of decay and gum disease. One study found that the risk of periodontitis9 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%.7

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 you wrap it around each tooth. Move slowly, and do not force or snap the floss between teeth because this damages the gums.10

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 plaque. 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.11

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 plaque,12 increasing the risk of gum disease. A toothbrush will also accumulate bacteria over time, and rinsing can’t remove all of it.

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.12 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 Benefits 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 comes included with a smart electric toothbrush.

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 can then potentially save money on premiums at renewal based on their members’ brushing habits.

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.

† Lower rate based on group's participation in Beam Perks™ wellness program and a group aggregate Beam score of "A". Based on Beam® internal brushing and utilization data. Not all Products Available in All States.


1 https://www.cdc.gov/oralhealth/fast-facts/gum-disease/index.html#:~:text=Nearly%20half%20(46%25)%20of,affects%20about%209%25%20of%20adults.

2 https://www.heart.org/en/news/2018/11/07/bad-tooth-brushing-habits-tied-to-higher-heart-risk

3 https://www.mouthhealthy.org/all-topics-a-z/brushing-your-teeth/

4 https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/ada-releases-new-brushing-tips-for-the-new-year-300386535.html

5 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22672101

6 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5319547/

7 https://www.mouthhealthy.org/all-topics-a-z/

8 https://www.usnews.com/news/articles/2016-05-02/how-many-americans-floss-their-teeth

9 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6434526/

10 https://www.mouthhealthy.org/all-topics-a-z/flossing-steps/

11 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5601277/

12 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3847535/

≃ For informational purposes only and not intended to be relied on as complete information, or to be construed as tax, legal, investment or medical advice. This is not a sale of or an offer to purchase a benefits plan from Beam. For more information about your benefits plan contact support@beambenefits.com

** Dental insurance product underwritten by National Guardian Life Insurance Company (NGL), Madison, WI, marketed by Beam Insurance Services LLC (Beam Benefits Insurance Services LLC, in CA). Dental policy form series numbers NDNGRP 04/06, NDNGRP 2010, and NDNGRP 2020. Dental product underwritten by Nationwide Life Insurance Company, Columbus, OH in NY, DE , ID, LA, UT, OH, TX and NM. Dental product administered by Beam Insurance Administrators LLC (Beam Dental Insurance Administrators LLC, in Texas). Not all Products Available in All States.

National Guardian Life Insurance Company, Madison, WI, is not affiliated with The Guardian Life Insurance Company of America, a.k.a. The Guardian, or Guardian Life.

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* Beam Perks™ is provided by Beam Perks LLC. Eligible members age 4 and up at the time of enrollment are eligible to receive Beam Perks™ and must select their Beam Brush color within 45 days of enrollment to participate. If you do not have a mobile device you can obtain Beam Perks™ by contacting Customer Operations at 1.800.648.1179. Beam Perks™ can be obtained separately without the purchase of an insurance product by visiting perks.beam.dental. Beam Perks™ may be changed at any time without notice and is subject to availability. See https://www.beambenefits.com/legal/beam-perks-terms-and-conditions for full program Terms and Conditions.