Gum disease, a condition where the structures that support the teeth are weakened through infection is the cause of 80% of tooth loss in individuals over the age of 35. More importantly still, gum disease can have serious knock-on effects in terms of one’s general health.
This warning comes from Dr Hugo Lourens, a dentist at the Medicross family medical and dental centre in Lorraine Gardens, Port Elizabeth. “Periodontal disease, or gum disease as it is commonly known, is essentially infection caused by bacteria in the mouth. As your body tries to fight the infection, it triggers a chronic inflammatory response putting the immune system under pressure.”
“This can have serious health implications,” notes Dr Lourens. “The bacteria that are constantly feeding into your bloodstream can increase the chances of damage to your heart valves and your risk of heart disease and stroke.”
• What is gum disease?
According to Dr Ameet Hira, a dentist at Medicross Randburg, periodontal disease is caused by a build up of plaque and tartar between the teeth, which attracts bacteria that causes infection on the edges of the gums.
“Over time, the infection spreads lower and deeper until it settles in the roots and loosens the gums from the teeth. This in turn forms periodontal ‘pockets’ that fill with matter and bacteria that causes further deterioration and erosion of the bone in which the teeth are embedded. As a result, the support base for your teeth become so eroded that the teeth start to shift, loosen and eventually fall out,” Dr Hira explains.
The first stage of periodontal disease is inflammation of the gums, known as gingivitis, and this is caused by poor dental hygiene. If gingivitis goes undetected or is left untreated, it eventually leads to periodontal disease.
The importance of regular check-ups
Dr Lourens says the importance of regular dental check-ups cannot be overemphasised.
“It is impossible for you to clean your teeth to the required standard at home. Only a dentist or oral hygienist has the equipment to deep clean, scrape your teeth and remove tartar and plaque.”
“In addition, your dentist has the expertise to recognise early signs of gingivitis and can ensure that it is treated before the infection spreads further.”
How to prevent gum disease
In order to reduce your risk of developing periodontal disease, you should follow a sensible diet, rigorous dental hygiene routine and schedule regular dental check-ups.
Dr Hira explains: “Ensure that your diet is well-balanced and rich in nutrients, vitamins and minerals. Avoid junk and sugary foods such as sweets, lollipops, pies, cakes and crisps, as the sugars in these foods are quickly converted into enamel-eroding acids by the enzymes in your mouth.”
Even more healthy foods such as fresh or dried fruit, and acidic foods, such as tomatoes or citrus fruit, increase your risk of developing gingivitis or periodontal disease.
“Ideally you should brush your teeth soon after eating any of these foods. Beverages also contain sugar, especially carbonated drinks, so you should rather replace these with fresh water or plain mineral water as these contain fluoride, which helps to prevent decay.”
Foods that contribute to healthy teeth include milk, cheese, nuts, chicken and other meats, as they contain calcium and phosphorous, which aid in the natural replacement of minerals in the enamel of your teeth. Apples, pears and other crunchy fruit and vegetables increase saliva flow, washing away food particles and bacteria, massaging your gums and thereby increasing blood flow which improves gum health.
Dental hygiene is vital to oral health. Brush and floss your teeth twice daily and visit your dentist at least twice a year. Make a dental appointment immediately if you have persistent bad breath, gums that are receding, overly sensitive, swollen or bleeding abscesses or pus in your gums or around your teeth, or loose or shifting teeth.
Periodontal risk factors include:
- Smoking or chewing of tobacco
- Overconsumption of alcohol, carbonated drinks and sugary sweets or food
- Systemic diseases such as diabetes that affect body organs and tissues
- Teeth clenching or grinding
- Certain medicines
- Genetic predisposition
- Defective fillings
- Misaligned teeth
- Insufficient dental check-ups
Dr Hira says that treatment for periodontal disease aims to control the infection and prevent it from spreading.
“Treatment options include the use of medicated mouthwashes that are specifically formulated to kill the offending bacteria in your mouth, specifically prescribed medication and deep cleaning in the form of scaling and planning. Surgical treatment, such as flap surgery and bone and tissue grafts, may also be performed in certain periodontal cases.”
Issued by: Martina Nicholson Associates (MNA) on behalf of Medicross
Contact : Martina Nicholson, Graeme Swinney, Sarah Wilson or Meggan Saville
Telephone: (011) 469 3016
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