As a dentist, I hear this expression often. People use it as their reason for skipping their recare appointments, not wanting dental x-rays, being surprised that they have a cavity, and especially when they’re told they have periodontal disease (gum disease). I find analogies to be a great learning tool. I respond by saying that high cholesterol or blood pressure doesn’t hurt until someone suffers a heart attack, diabetes doesn’t physically hurt until someone starts having numbness in their limbs. Another great analogy to consider: If your hands bled when you washed them, you would be concerned. Yet, many people think it’s normal if their gums bleed when they brush or floss…but it isn’t! Periodontal disease is the number ONE cause of tooth loss in adults! So, you ask: what is it and how do I avoid it?
The first opponent is plaque. It’s the sticky substance that forms on your teeth after you eat and gives teeth that “fuzzy” feeling. If plaque is not removed several times a day, by brushing and flossing, your gums will become swollen and bleed easily. This is the earliest stage of gum disease known as gingivitis.
If your oral hygiene slips or you miss your dental visits, plaque continues to build up on teeth. If it sits too long it becomes hardened and calcified and creates the next opponent—calculus, also referred to as tartar. Now, bacteria are smart…they know how to fight battles. Their next move is to “hide in the trenches” below your gumline where they are protected because your toothbrush can’t reach down that far! All alone down there they continue to multiply, creating a more serious infection. They become mini “Pac-men” eating away at the supporting structures for your teeth—the ligaments that attach your teeth to the surrounding gums and bone, and the bone itself.
As the Pac-man party continues, your gums begin to swell and detach from the tooth creating a space or “pocket.” This vicious cycle continues. Pockets get deeper, bone loss progresses, and it eventually leads to tooth loss. After getting the disease under control, you will need to see your dentist on a more frequent basis. The usual “every 6 months” it is not suitable for everyone and it’s easier to stay ahead of the game than to try to catch up. This makes the old saying seem quite true: “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”
There are other incentives when it comes to preventing gum disease. Your mouth is the gateway to the rest of your body—the healthier you keep it, the healthier the rest of your body and the less bacteria there are to enter your bloodstream. Studies are now showing definitive correlations between gum disease and major health issues. Gum disease doubles your risk of dying from heart disease and triples your risk of death from a stroke! It increases your risk for diabetes and Alzheimer’s, and contributes to low birth weight and premature
births in pregnant women. One recent study has even suggested significant insight into a major villain—cancer. Several types of cancer were found to have a particular bacterium that is ONLY found in periodontal disease! Obviously much more research is needed, but there are compelling reasons why it is important to have good oral health and how it affects overall body health.
Periodontal disease can’t be discussed without mentioning another great opponent—smoking. The findings are very clear and concise. Smoking increases your risk of gum disease. The longer you smoke and the more you smoke, the higher your risk. If you already have gum disease, smoking makes it more severe. And, smoking is the main cause of gum disease that is resistant to treatment!
If we go back to the basics, the main goal is simply to not let plaque accumulate. As much as you hate to hear it, BRUSH, BRUSH, BRUSH & FLOSS, FLOSS, FLOSS. Just like acclimating to a new fitness regimen where the soreness fades away, the same can be said for oral health care. If you use an electric brush twice a day and floss only once a day, properly, your gums will toughen up, stop bleeding, and any soreness will disappear. Then you know you’ve reached a healthy state, and then you can properly say “but it doesn’t hurt!”
—–Dina Bambrey, DMD
Dr. Dina is a NoVA native who provides care in all facets of dentistry and has been recognized as one of America’s Top Dentists since 2009. She has a special affinity for providing care to children, those with special needs, and the elderly. She is always welcoming new patients and invites you to visit her website www.dr-dina.com or call 703-726-9119.