Gum disease, also called periodontal disease, occurs when plaque’a sticky substance composed of bacteria and other matter’collects in the gaps between your teeth and gums.
Source: Adapted from Looking After Your Body: An Owner’s Guide to Successful Aging, Reader’s Digest
What is gum disease?
Mild gum disease, called gingivitis, is a common infection that causes swelling at the gum line. It can develop at any age and can lead to periodontitis (advanced gum disease). Periodontitis occurs when accumulated plaque creates tiny pockets at the gum edge, causing gum tissue to pull away from the teeth. The plaque can eventually destroy your jawbone and loosen your teeth.
Advanced gum disease is the primary cause of tooth loss in older people. As you age, your risk for gum disease increases. This is because even healthy gums gradually pull away from teeth, leaving the roots exposed. And roots that aren’t protected are more easily damaged by plaque.
Gum disease is linked to an increased heart-attack risk. Once the bacteria from gum disease enters your bloodstream, it causes your white blood cells to release clotting factors that contribute to both heart attacks and strokes.
Who is at risk for gum disease?
Several drugs commonly taken by older people, such as diuretics and high blood pressure medications, reduce saliva production. That’s a problem because saliva plays a key role in protecting your teeth by flushing away food and neutralizing the acids in plaque. Some illnesses can also affect dental health. Arthritis may make it challenging for you to brush and floss properly, and diabetes hinders wound healing, leading to infection. Many older people don’t eat a balanced diet, which decreases the body’s ability to fight infection.
Treatment for gum disease
Gingivitis can be eliminated with scrupulous brushing, flossing, and regular professional cleaning. If you’re in generally poor health, you’re more prone to gum disease, so follow the wellness strategy outlined below. And ask your dentist about protective fluoride treatments—they’re not just for kids. Unlike gingivitis, periodontitis requires drugs and surgery.
Medications for gum disease
Various anti-infective medications are available and can be prescribed by your periodontist for oral use or local application inside the periodontal pocket. Atridox, a controlled-release doxycycline gel, is used for seven days. The gel solidifies when applied inside the periodontal pocket.
- Break the sugar habit. Sugar provides a breeding ground for bacteria. If you do indulge, brush your teeth afterward or rinse your mouth with water or mouthwash.
- Favour fruits and vegetables. They contain antioxidants that help repair tissues. Bonus: Eating them raw helps clean your teeth.
- Stop smoking. A study of 12,000 adults showed that smoking quadruples the risk of gum disease. And smokers don’t heal as quickly after gum surgery.
- Brush up. Brush your teeth at least twice a day with a soft-bristled brush. Spend about two to three minutes on the task—not 45 to 60 seconds, which is the average. Brush your tongue, too, since it’s another breeding ground for bacteria.
- Don’t forget to floss. Floss daily. Insert floss between your teeth, making a “C” at the side of each tooth and gently moving the floss up and down. Pull the floss across your back teeth, using the same up-and-down motion.
Related Procedures for Gum Disease
Tooth scaling and root planing remove plaque and smooth the diseased root surface so your gums can reattach. If the pockets are very deep, flap surgery is used to cut your gums to the bone so the entire root can be scraped and planed. The gums are then sewn back in place. If gum disease has spread to your jawbone, tissue regeneration or bone grafting can save your teeth.
Alternative Therapies for Gum Disease
Different dentistry. Holistic dentists have the same training as traditional dentists, but they’re apt to use acupuncture for pain relief and to recommend supplements and stress reduction techniques (stress weakens the immunesystem, increasing the risk for gum disease).
Prevention of gum disease
- See your dentist. Have a cleaning and checkup every six months—every three months if you’re susceptible to gum disease.
- C yourself healthy. Taking up to 1,000 mg of vitamin C every day may help keep gums healthy by supporting the immune system, making the gums more resistant to bacteria. Vitamin C also strengthens weak gum tissue.
- Bone up on calcium. Calcium boosts bone and tooth formation. The current Dietary Reference Intake (DRI) is 1,300 mg (or the amount found in 4 cups of milk) for preteens and teens age 9 to 18, 1,000 mg for men and women age 19 to 50, and 1,200 mg for men and women age 51 and older.
- Consider coenzyme Q10. Found in all human cells, this substance increases tissue oxygenation. Taking 60 to 100 mg per day may help decrease bleeding and inflammation. For best absorption, take it in gelcap form.
- Multiple choice. Take a multivitamin that contains vitamin C and calcium. You may still need to take a separate calcium pill, however.