What is America’s number one oral health issue? Periodontal disease, often called the silent dental disease, because you may not know you have it, according to a recent national survey of dentists by the American Dental Association (ADA).
Periodontal disease is a disease of the gums. Because of recent reports indicating a possible relationship between periodontal disease and stroke, heart disease, and preterm low-birth-weight babies, 73% of ADA dentists surveyed plan to educate patients regarding possible links, and 42% plan to recommend home-care products with antibacterial ingredients.
Keeping your teeth and gums healthy is a day-to-day routine that requires simple hygienic procedures and periodic visits to the dentist that will pay off in healthy teeth and gums. Here is what you should know and do to avoid the silent dental disease, according to experts.
Gum disease is the major cause of tooth loss in adults. When it comes to maintaining good dental health, says Dr. Stephen Feldman, “Plaque is the enemy, the major cause of inflammation and periodontal disease. Gingivitis is the early stage of periodontal disease. It affects the gums, causing redness, bleeding, and swelling.”
Dr. Feldman, a dentist in the Department of Periodontics, Endodontics and Dental Hygiene at the University of Louisville School of Dentistry, and the director of dental health for Jefferson County, Kentucky, says, “With treatment, gingivitis is reversible.” Get professional advice. Until you do, make sure you carefully brush and floss your teeth.
“If the first sign of periodontal disease is not treated, it may progress to periodontitis,” says Dr. Feldman. “This is the secondary stage of gum disease.” Dental plaque formed from sugar and bacteria in your mouth also causes cavities that can break down the structure of a tooth, says Dr. Feldman. When this happens, the dentist removes the infection and places a filling or a cap over the tooth to protect it and restore its function. The cap or filling can be made to match the natural color of your teeth.
“Enamel is the outer layer of the tooth,” says Dr. Feldman, “and the pulp, which contains the tooth’s nerve, is the softer layer underneath.” When bacteria destroy the tooth enamel and cause a cavity, if it is not treated, it rots through to the pulp and the bacteria can enter through the bloodstream and cause an abscess.
In addition, bacteria in plaque can also damage the gum tissue surrounding the tooth. Because the gums protect the teeth and the underlying bone, if gums become infected, the bone that holds your teeth in a socket can deteriorate. The result may be loose teeth or teeth that fall out. Bone damage is not reversible but is treatable. However, bone treatments are much more expensive than preventing the problem in the first place, says Dr. Feldman.
“The incidence of tooth decay is down about 40% over the past 30 years because of fluoride in most city water, toothpastes, and mouth rinses,” says Dr. Feldman. He stresses the importance of brushing and flossing every day and recommends the use of an electric flosser that has a whiplike filament that goes between the teeth to remove plaque. It is the easiest way to floss, he says, requiring only one hand.
When it comes to infants, the ADA recommends that the first visit to the dentist occur by age 1, says Dr. Feldman, something that most parents don’t know or don’t heed. “Within 6 months after that first tooth erupts is the time to visit the dentist,” says Dr. Feldman. “The dentist will show you how to clean the infant’s teeth–without fluoride–with a 2×2-inch piece of wet gauze that is gently rubbed on the gum pads.”
Dr. Feldman stresses that infants should not be given fluoride toothpaste, because they tend to swallow it. If infants receive too much fluoride at this early stage of their lives, it can result in a mottled or speckled appearance or white and brown spots on the teeth from having too much fluoride.
Joyce Mathison, dental hygienist, says you should brush your teeth for at least 2 minutes morning and night. Most people brush for only 30 seconds, she says. It is most important to brush your teeth before you go to bed, because chewing food during the day helps to remove plaque. While you sleep at night, and your mouth is at rest, plaque forms and adheres to your teeth. Removing this plaque before you go to bed will help to prevent gum inflammation.
“Flossing should be done once a day, at night,” says Mathison. “Some people have a misconception about flossing. Never pull the floss below the gum line. Instead, curve the floss around each tooth, gently slide it into the gum, pull it down out of the gum, and curve it around the other side of the tooth. Flossing helps prevent periodontal disease.”
Mathison recommends floss threaders for people with bridges and for kids with braces. Floss threaders poke through and clean underneath bridges and braces and each side of a tooth.
“Replace your toothbrush every 3 months,” says Mathison. It harbors bacteria and wears out. When it gets frayed, throw it out and buy a new one. Buy a new toothbrush after you’ve been sick, because the old one houses bacteria.”
You should have your teeth cleaned twice a year, says Mathison. She stresses that you should have your dentist do a perio-probe annually. In this procedure the dentist probes your gums to determine if you have any periodontal pockets, which should be no deeper than 1-3 millimeters. The perio-probe test will detect gum problems before they become serious.
According to the ADA, if you notice any of the following signs of gum disease, you should see your dentist immediately:
- Gums that bleed when you brush your teeth.
- Red swollen or tender gums.
- Gums that have pulled away from the teeth.
- Bad breath that doesn’t go away.
- Pus between your teeth and gums.
- Loose teeth.
- A change in the way your teeth fit together when you bite.
- A change in the fit of partial dentures.
Article By: Robert Connor, Medical Writer