When I examine a patient for the first time, I quickly assess their overall health by looking in their mouth. That’s right. The condition of their mouth and teeth can tell me a lot about what other health problems they may have.
You may wonder, isn’t ‘mouth health’ the concern of a dentist? Yes it is, but did you know that the condition of your gums might also be a bellwether for such things as heart disease, stroke, osteoporosis, diabetes, or pneumonia? It’s true. Let me explain how.
A Silent Inflammatory Disease
Gum, or periodontal disease, is often a silent condition that may go unnoticed for a long time. It is a chronic inflammatory condition of your gums caused by plaque buildup on your teeth. Plaque buildup occurs from inadequate dental care, i.e., infrequent teeth brushing/poor technique and lack of flossing. There are also other factors that contribute to gum disease which include:
- Smoking – smokers build up more plaque than non-smokers. They are likely to have deep pockets between teeth from loss of bone and tissue from tobacco use.
- Puberty, Pregnancy, Menopause – dramatic shifts in hormones can wreak havoc on mouth tissues. Regular dental cleaning during these times can help.
- Stress – produces increased cortisol levels which can increase bone and tissue loss.
- Medications – anti-depressants, oral contraceptives, and heart drugs can damage gums.
- Poor Nutrition – lack of calcium, Vitamin C can add to inflammation of tissues.
- Other Diseases – people with rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes, and heart conditions are likely to have gum disease.
Gum disease can increase your risk of heart attack and/or stroke by bacteria getting into the bloodstream and attaching to plaque within the coronary systems, causing a clot. Bacteria present in your gums can also get into your respiratory tract and cause pneumonia. In addition, gum disease can increase your risk of developing inflammation/disease in other parts of your body. Inflammation is now known to be a precursor to many diseases, including cancer.
Signs of Gum Disease
As I mentioned above, people can have gum disease and not be aware of it until it has become advanced. Here are some of the telltale signs of gum disease that you should be aware of:
- Bleeding – flossing, brushing or eating certain harder foods causes blood.
- Recession – gums pull away from the teeth.
- Persistent bad breath – indicates bacteria and plaque.
- Mouth sores – and/or pus between your gums and teeth.
What Can You Do About Gum Disease?
When I suspect gum disease, the first thing I recommend is to see a dentist. A dentist will likely recommend that you have a deep cleaning of your teeth that may include scaling and root planing, which is deep removal of plaque from root surfaces and cleaning out of gum pockets. Antibiotics may be necessary, as well, if you have infection present.
In addition to crucial dental care and your dentist’s recommendations, there are several natural things that can help prevent and/or get rid of gum disease:
- Get a battery operated spin brush – studies show that almost all of plaque is removed with each brushing with a spin brush. These are available at your drug or grocery store in the teeth care aisle and most are under $10. Many are now rechargeable as well.
- Up your intake of Vitamin C, Calcium – research shows that higher levels of these nutrients can prevent gum disease by strengthening bone (calcium) and preventing inflammation in tissues (Vitamin C). Especially if you are over age 40, 1500 mg of calcium per day, and 1-2,000 mg of Vitamin C (taken in divided doses of 500 mg each for better absorption).
- Drink Green Tea – a recent study published in the Journal of Periodontology revealed that green tea drinkers had superior gum health. Contains a powerful antioxidant, catechin, which prevents inflammation throughout the entire body. Must be brewed green tea, not green tea soft drinks.
- Chew Gum With Xylitol – recently Xylitol, a sweetener made from corn, has proven to be effective against mouth bacteria and can help prevent gum disease.
- Drink Cranberry juice – prevents bacteria from sticking to teeth, reducing plaque buildup.
- Adequate Vitamin D – has anti-inflammatory properties as well as helps calcium work better to build bone tissue. Take 1,000 mg Vitamin D3 a day, and/or 10-15 minutes sun exposure 3 times a week (summer).
Periodontal disease can be a painful condition and increase your risk for serious health problems. In addition, bad breath that usually accompanies gum disease can also be very embarrassing and lead to uncomfortable social situations. However, by improving your dental hygiene, nutrition, quitting smoking, and adding some natural preventative measures, you can beat gum disease and reclaim your winning smile!