By: Regina Arnold

Gums are a barometer for warnings, disease

The dentists interviewed for this issue all agreed that keeping a clean mouth is an essential part in taking good care of your body. Dr. David Alpan with Aesthetic Orthodontics explained the correlation between one’s oral health care and overall general health.

“One of the first places our bodies show disease is in our mouth. The U.S. Surgeon General also agrees that oral health is a strong indicator of overall health and well-being (CDC, 2006). Every organ in the body is affected by oral health. If we don’t keep our mouths clean, it can affect our heart.” Poor oral hygiene has been linked to heart and lung disease, diabetes, stroke, extremely high birth weight and premature births. “Often, diseases give their first warning signs in the form of oral problems,” Dr. Alpan said.

Plaque can develop into gingivitis, which is inflammation of the gums. Daily brushing and flossing can make gingivitis go away, but if not taken care of correctly can lead to gum disease. “Gum disease is initially caused by an increase of bacteria around the gums called plaque. This build up is made of bacteria with a texture similar to sand paper. If the plaque is not removed, the gums become inflamed and infected; this initial stage is called gingivitis. When the plaque and inflammation build up and start to affect the bone that supports the teeth it is called periodontitis. Sometimes gum disease makes your gums tender and more likely to bleed.” Dr. Alpan explained.

He also warns that gum disease is often silent, meaning symptoms may not appear until an advanced stage of the disease. Look for the following warning signs of gum disease: Red, swollen or tender gums, or other pain in your mouth; bleeding while brushing, flossing or eating hard foods; gums that are receding or pulling away from the teeth, causing the teeth to look longer than before; loose or separating teeth; pus between your gums and teeth; sores in your mouth; persistent bad breath; a change in the way your teeth fit together when you bite; or a change in the fit of partial dentures. If it is a serious infection; it can lead to a tooth loss and needs to be treated by a dentist. If the infection is not treated; it can ruin the bones, gums and other tissues that support your teeth and, over time, your teeth may have to be removed.

By practicing good dental hygiene; gum disease can be preventable. Brush your teeth twice daily and floss at least once a day. Eat a well-balanced diet and quit smoking, as it can increase your risk for gum disease.

Also, visit a dentist once or twice a year for cleanings and checkups to make sure your teeth are in good health. Dental exams can uncover problems that can be easily treated in the early stages, when damage is minimal. “Dental professionals thoroughly clean and examine the teeth and mouth. Using results from the oral exam and information from dental X-rays, dentists are able to diagnose problems well before they are visible or painful. This helps to limit the amount of time, money and possible discomfort caused by dental issues,” said Dr. Alpan, “Visiting your dentist for regular checkups is vital to a healthier smile.”

With excellent oral hygiene and overall care of your teeth and gums, they can last a lifetime. Taking proper care of your mouth is just as important as taking care of the rest of your body. A clean mouth does more than just prevent cavities; it also prevents tooth decay, gingivitis and other gum diseases, which can eventually result in oral cancer. “Make it a personal life-long goal to prevent the need for costly uncomfortable dental procedures. Prevention is the best course of action. Without consistent care, several oral health problems can result. This “silent epidemic” (U.S. Surgeon General) can be avoided and prevented with daily home care and regular visits to your dentist,” Dr. Alpan said.