Do you ever see a little bit of blood when you brush or floss your teeth? That could be the first visible sign of gum disease, also known as periodontal disease. When bacteria cause an infection that invades gum tissue, your teeth start to loosen. The longer you wait to seek treatment, the greater the danger of losing your teeth.
WHY IS GUM HEALTH IMPORTANT?
It might surprise you to know that the health risks of gum disease may extend beyond your mouth and can affect your whole body. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), gum studies link oral infections with a host of health problems, including increased risk of heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes. It may even play a role in premature and underweight childbirth.
“If the gums aren’t healthy, the rest of the body is not going to be healthy,” says Dr. Kent de Vigne of Pike Place Dental. “If your gums are bleeding, you’re always fighting infection.”
The Seattle holistic dentist is quick to point out that early gum disease doesn’t always have symptoms. “Your gums need to be checked regularly because we can identify the problem before it gets out of control. Gingivitis is a mild form of periodontal disease. Untreated, it can progress into full-blown periodontal disease, which can result in ulcers and open sores. If your gums are bleeding when you brush or floss, bacteria can enter your bloodstream and circulate throughout the rest of your body,” Dr. de Vigne tells Natural Choice Network. “That’s why we must stop the gums from bleeding.”
While we tend to think of the dentist in terms of teeth and gums, they’re an important part of basic health care. Dentists are often the first to spot evidence of oral cancer. They can also test for HPV and other oral diseases that are easier to treat in the early stages. By helping prevent gum disease, your dentist can help you stay strong and healthy.
WANT HEALTHY GUMS? DO THESE 4 THINGS
1. Brush and floss every day – it’s the most basic thing and the most important. De Vigne suggests a sonic toothbrush and an occasional warm saltwater rinse. You can also use anti-microbial mouthwash or naturopathic tooth and gum tonic to help kill unhealthy bacteria.
2. Don’t smoke. The rate of gum disease is three times higher for smokers than for people who never smoked, according to the CDC.
3. Eat mindfully. Acidic foods are hard on the teeth and can erode enamel. You don’t have to cut them out completely, but you should avoid sucking on lemons and other acidic foods. Balance your diet by eating lots of leafy greens, which contain calcium to support your teeth and bones. “You also need plenty of vitamin D to absorb the calcium,” de Vigne cautions.
4. Schedule regular dental exams. Your healthy-looking smile might be hiding early-stage gum disease, so don’t wait until your gums bleed or something hurts. “When your tooth hurts, that means there’s nerve involvement. You may be able to avoid root canals, crowns, and extractions if we can catch these problems early. It will also be less expensive.”
In his practice, de Vigne offers a wide variety of diagnostic services that go beyond keeping those pearly whites looking good. Among them are:
VELscope: The special lighting device helps your dentist spot unhealthy tissues, like early-stage oral cancer. It only takes a few minutes and De Vigne recommends it to his patients once a year.Oral DNA: This test can assess your risk of developing periodontal disease. Determining levels of specific bacteria enables your dentist to target your treatment.
OraRisk HPV: The saliva test checks for HPV and can determine your risk level for oral and throat cancers.Biopsy of oral tissue: If you have any suspicious tissue, your dentist can take a sample and send it to an oral pathology lab. Early-stage oral cancers are often easier to treat than when they’re discovered later.
If going to the dentist makes you a little anxious, consider choosing a holistic dentist. Practices like de Vigne’s focus on prevention, patient education, and the least invasive procedures necessary. They avoid toxic materials like mercury or fluoride and strive for a minimal impact on the environment. They are mindful of the mouth-body connection, and that adds up to a less stressful visit for you.
Ann Pietrangelo is a freelance writer and the author of "No More Secs!" and “Catch That Look.”