Posts for: November, 2014
Today, many people are taking positive steps to reduce the risks posed by major health problems like cancer, cardiopulmonary diseases, hypertension, and diabetes. But there’s one disease that makes the top-ten list of worldwide health conditions, and yet isn’t thought about as much as many of the others. That malady is severe periodontal (gum) disease — and according to a new study, it’s the sixth-most prevalent health condition in the world.
The study, released by the International and American Associations for Dental Research, reveals that some 743 million people around the world — about 11 percent of the global population — suffer from severe periodontal disease; that percentage hasn’t changed significantly since 1990. The study also shows that while an individual’s chance of developing this condition rises gradually with age, there is a steep increase in people between 30 and 40 years old, with a peak at age 38.
If severe periodontal disease is such a major concern, why isn’t it “on the radar”? A 2010 report from the U.S. Surgeon General, titled “Oral Health: The Silent Epidemic,” gives some clues. For one thing, diseases related to oral health don’t always produce dramatic symptoms: Even tooth loss, for example, is sometimes (wrongly) regarded as an inevitable consequence of aging, when it’s more often the result of disease or injury. For another, these conditions disproportionately affect people whose voices aren’t always heard: children, the elderly, and the disadvantaged.
Severe periodontal disease is clearly a challenge to the public health. But what can you do as an individual? Plenty! The good news about periodontal disease is that it is largely preventable, and very treatable. Prevention is chiefly a matter of maintaining good oral hygiene.
Have you flossed lately? Is your brushing technique up to snuff? Do you avoid sugary snacks and beverages (especially between meals), and visit your dentist for regular checkups? If so, you’ve taken some major steps toward preventing periodontal disease. But despite their best efforts, it is difficult for some people to control periodontal disease without extra assistance. That’s where a periodontist can help.
Periodontists are concerned with treating problems of the gums. We use a number of methods to combat periodontal disease — including removing plaque bacteria, restoring healthy tissue, and educating people about how to maintain better oral hygiene at home. Your general dentist may refer you to a periodontist if warning signs are noticed, but you don’t need a referral to come in for an exam. If you notice the symptoms of periodontal disease — redness or inflammation of the gums, a bad taste or odor in your mouth, or any amount of bleeding when you brush — then it may be time to have your gums checked.
We’re all susceptible to gum disease when we fail to practice effective daily brushing and flossing. But you may have a greater risk of gum disease (and more severe forms of it) if any of the following categories pertain to you:
Aging. Gum disease risk naturally increases with age. We can lower the risk with an effective daily hygiene regimen, along with a minimum of two office cleanings and checkups each year. Brushing and flossing removes bacterial plaque and food particles which accumulate on tooth surfaces. The longer plaque remains in contact with gum tissues, the greater the chances of infection.
Pregnancy. Although women tend to take better care of their teeth than men, they still face unique issues that increase their risk. During pregnancy, for example, certain hormone levels rise, which cause the gums to become more responsive to bacteria. Other hormonal fluctuations throughout a woman’s life, including taking certain drugs for birth control or during menopause, can cause similar situations.
Family History. You could be at higher risk if members of your immediate family have a history of gum disease. Researchers estimate that 30% of the U.S. population has a genetic predisposition to the disease; it’s also possible for family members to transfer bacteria to other family members by way of saliva contact or shared eating utensils.
Smoking. Nicotine, the active ingredient in tobacco smoke, causes changes in the blood vessels of the mouth that could inhibit the flow of antibodies (produced by the body to fight infection) in the bloodstream. As a result, smokers experience more rapid disease development and greater detachment between teeth and gums than non-smokers.
Other Inflammatory Conditions. A number of studies indicate people with other inflammatory conditions like heart disease, arthritis or diabetes have a higher risk for gum disease. Some researchers have even suggested that bacteria associated with gum disease pass into the blood stream and threaten other parts of the body — an added incentive to seek treatment and stop the disease’s advancement.
If you fall into any of these risk categories, it’s even more urgent that you practice effective daily hygiene with regular office checkups. Additionally, if you begin to notice bleeding gums, tenderness and swelling, or loose teeth, contact us as soon as possible for an evaluation.
If you would like more information on the diagnosis and treatment of gum disease, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Assessing Risk for Gum Disease.”
Among our most common diseases, tooth decay can be a big problem at any age: in the U.S., one in four children 5 and under has some form of the disease, as well as ninety percent of those 60 and older — and a quarter of those have suffered complete tooth loss.
Fortunately, we now know what needs to be done on a regular basis to prevent tooth decay. Unfortunately, many are uninformed about all they need to do to lower their risk.
Here, then, are 5 questions to ask yourself to see if you’re on the right prevention path or not.
Do I brush and floss daily? If not, you’re aiding and abetting the “enemy” — bacteria that cause tooth decay. Bacteria that make up plaque feed on any food remnants that adhere to tooth surfaces. Brushing at least once daily (twice is better) removes plaque, while flossing removes plaque between teeth that can’t be reached with a brush. Removing plaque will lower your mouth’s acid levels that cause a loss of minerals to the enamel surface.
Do I use the proper techniques for brushing and flossing? While it’s important to establish daily hygiene habits, if you’re not performing them properly you won’t realize the full benefit from your efforts. But don’t dismay — we can train you in the proper techniques for brushing and flossing your teeth.
Do I use fluoride toothpaste? This naturally-occurring chemical strengthens tooth enamel and makes it more resistant to decay. You can increase fluoride’s absorption rate into enamel by using hygiene products that contain it.
Do I constantly snack between meals? Saliva neutralizes acid remaining in the mouth after eating in about 30 to 60 minutes. If you’re constantly snacking or sipping acidic beverages, however, saliva can’t do this effectively. It’s best to limit snacking to a few, specific times and restrict acidic beverages to meal time only.
Do I visit the dentist for cleanings and checkups? While brushing and flossing reduce plaque, it can’t remove it from hard-to-reach places below the gums or harder deposits (calculus) that have developed. A professional cleaning twice a year removes the plaque and calculus left from daily hygiene. We can also gauge the health of your teeth and determine if tooth decay or gum disease may be developing.
If you would like more information on tooth decay prevention, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Tooth Decay: How to Assess Your Risk.”