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Being in the beauty industry, I'm especially aware of the power of a beautiful smile, so I swipe on blue-based red lipsticks (which make teeth appear whiter), blue-tinted glosses (ditto), and use the occasional whitestrip (my favorite: Crest 3D White 2 Hour Express Whitestrips) to brighten my teeth. But during a recent cleaning at my dentist's -- I go every six months, religiously, and have never had a cavity to date -- I was shocked to learn I had gum disease. I wasn't quite as tooth-obsessed as some of my friends, who floss three times a day, but I took pride in my oral hygiene. After my dentist explained the signs and risks associated with gum disease (like the link between periodontal disease and heart disease), he came up with a game plan, which I then stuck to for six months. The result? My dentist just told me that although I'm not completely rid of gum disease, I'd greatly improved my oral health.

Here's what you need to know:

So what is gum disease? "Periodontal disease -- commonly referred to as 'gum disease' -- is a general term used for Gingivitis, which is inflammation of the gums, and Periodontitis, a loss of supporting structure around the tooth, mainly ligament and bone," explains Phong Ta, a general dentist based in New York City. The cause: "The main culprit is bacteria. The mouth is home to thousands of species of bacteria that thrive in the dark, moist environment in and around your teeth," says Ta. "Bacteria, along with a variety of proteins, form a film on your teeth called dental plaque. Toxins from these bacteria start to break down gum tissues, and in turn, the body responds to this attack with an inflammatory response, which is why you get red, swollen gums."

The tell-tale signs. "Healthy gums are generally light pink and firm in appearance," says Ta. "When there is Gingivitis, the gums become red in color and are more swollen in appearance, and become very tender and bleed easily when brushed, flossed, and touched."

How you can fix it. "Reduce and remove bacteria," says Ta. You can do this "mechanically" using an electric toothbrush (the Philips Sonicare DiamondClean toothbrush is a good one) and floss, and by rinsing with a mouthwash that contains bacteria-killing ingredients. Start with an over-the-counter version, and if that doesn't work, ask your dentist for a prescription, which is what I did. And the best toothpaste? "Colgate Total, which contains Triclosan and Crest ProHealth, which contains Stannous Fluoride -- these are the only toothpastes with the ADA Seal of Acceptance as being antibacterial in nature," says Ta. Finally, regular dental cleanings are a must. "You can't eliminate all the bacteria in your mouth, but you can reduce their levels so they are less harmful," he says.