What Can Be Done About Gum Troubles?
DISEASES of the gums afflict great numbers of persons. According to the National Health Survey in the United States, among those between the ages of eighteen and twenty-four, 70 percent of the men and 63 percent of the women are said to have gum troubles. Some five million living Americans have lost all their teeth from gum disease by the time they reached thirty-five. In fact, more adult teeth are lost as a result of gum disease than from decay.
Gum trouble starts with inflammation of the gums. Dentists call this gingivitis. They speak of our gums, the pink tissue below and between our teeth, as gingiva. The inflammation shows up as bleeding gums upon brushing the teeth or even eating some food that requires more vigorous chewing such as a fresh apple. It can also be just a reddening of the margin of the gum tissue nearest the tooth. It is generally painless, and the gums begin to lose their normal firmness and tautness. The trouble can begin early; in fact, one study showed that 85 percent of children between the ages of eleven and eighteen have gingivitis.
Dental investigators say that the causes of bleeding gums are many. But generally the basic cause is lack of good oral hygiene habits. Often there is a packing of food between the teeth. Although a deficiency of vitamin C can cause bleeding gums, the commonest cause of all is improper brushing of the teeth and gums.
When gingivitis or bleeding, inflamed gums are not treated, the disease progresses slowly to the next stage. This is periodontal disease or more commonly called pyorrhea. If the progress of pyorrhea is not halted, extraction of the teeth may be necessary.
What can be done about these gum disorders?
Coping with Dental Plaque
Gum disorders often start with a buildup of plaque. This is a whitish stuff on the teeth that is difficult to see and that sticks tenaciously to teeth. This bacteria-laden dental plaque builds up whenever you do a poor job of brushing your teeth. Plaque forms the fastest amid carbohydrate food debris. But good brushing of the teeth will remove these soft and sticky deposits.
Regular brushing with a moderately soft brush can remove plaque and keep its formation at a very low level. For most persons a moderately soft brush is better for the gums, since dental authorities find that hard brushes can cause the gums to recede. Hard and medium-hard brushes can cause severe tooth erosion especially along the gum line. Hard brushes exert a sawlike action. Also the harder brushes do not yield enough to clean properly between the teeth, where plaque readily forms.
Since dental plaque seems to be closely related to gum diseases, then controlling its formation will help to prevent serious disease of the gums. Some things have been learned that will help you to reduce the amount of plaque that forms:
(1) Restrict the amount of sugar intake; this has been found to cut down greatly on the formation of dental plaque.
(2) Brush your teeth regularly, especially right after meals.
(3) Use of dental floss or string is another practical method of controlling plaque formation.
Coping with Tartar Formation
When plaque remains on the surfaces of the teeth, it hardens into a darker substance called by dentists “calculus” but which is commonly called “tartar.” It is a light yellow to dark brown in color. It forms on the teeth along the gum line, and has very sharp edges, cutting into the gums as food is chewed. Tartar might be likened to the deposit or scale that accumulates in a teakettle after some use. It forms in layers. Though tartar is mixed with other debris in the mouth, it is, like the scale of a teakettle, made up mainly of calcium.
Tartar forms more heavily in two general areas: Outside the upper molars and inside the lower incisors. Why is this? Because these two areas of the mouth are near the opening of the salivary glands, and the saliva more readily deposits calcium salts here.
The accumulation of tartar often leads to serious gum disease. This is because the tartar, as it forms and hardens, pushes the gums away from the teeth. This results in pockets in which more tartar forms. Microorganisms and food particles accumulate in the pockets, causing more inflammation—a vicious circle. As the tartar pushes the gum away from the tooth, it darkens in color (from blood pigments).
What next happens is explained by a publication of the National Institute of Dental Research: “As the disease worsens, the inflammation spreads, the pockets deepen, and pus forms in them. The infected gums ulcerate and bleed, and tissue damage increases. In the final stages, the bone which supports the teeth is attacked and destroyed. Unless the person receives treatment, the teeth loosen and eventually come out.”—Research Explores Pyorrhea and Other Gum Diseases.
What can be done to prevent the build-up of tartar? Brush your teeth regularly so as to remove soft deposits of dental plaque before they harden into tartar. Keep soft, sticky foods to a minimum, since they encourage tartar formation. Crisp foods help to keep teeth and gums clean.
However, despite good dental care some tartar may still build up, at least with many persons. It is important that this be removed professionally. Dentists generally call this “scaling.” They use a sharp instrument to scrape off the stonelike tartar.
Dental authorities report that persons who maintain a high degree of oral hygiene have very little tartar formation in comparison to persons who are not as regular and thorough in their tooth brushing. Though some persons may need to have a “scaling” done at least once a year, those who practice good oral hygiene normally do not need to have a “scaling” done that often. Dentists, however, like their patients to visit them at least once a year, and many recommend a yearly “scaling” and cleaning.
Many persons, however, go to a dentist for just a “cleaning.” But dental authorities say that it is much wiser to spend your money on a “scaling,” rather than only a “cleaning.” “Scaling” is something that the dentist or trained dental assistant has to do. It takes more time and costs more than simply a cleaning, but it can be important in preventing serious gum disorders.
Is Pyorrhea Hopeless?
What if one already has pyorrhea? What can be done? Immediate treatment is necessary. Otherwise not only will the teeth eventually be lost but there is also the spread of harmful bacteria throughout the body. Pyorrhea in some cases may be the cause of rheumatism, arthritis, heart trouble and other ailments.
In its early stages pyorrhea is curable if treated properly. Usually it requires professional attention and sometimes even surgical elimination of the pus pockets is necessary.
Years ago it was felt that persons with pyorrhea or gum problems should have all of their teeth removed immediately and then have dentures made. Now, more and more emphasis is being placed on the treatment of gum problems in an effort to control the disease process and to keep the teeth longer.
One dentist of many years’ experience explains that in most instances bone destroyed by pyorrhea cannot be restored, so the idea is “to arrest the disease and thus to prevent further destruction. Dramatic successes have been achieved, even in what seemed to be nearly hopeless cases. . . . Both the experience of modern practice and the weight of experimental evidence have led me to believe that, if preventive care is started early enough, by both the dentist and his patient, almost no one now needs to lose teeth because of so-called pyorrhea.”
A person with pyorrhea also needs to be certain of good nutrition. Adequate intake of calcium, phosphorus, the vitamin B complex and vitamin C is considered important by nutritionists. For example, nutritionist Catharyn Elwood states that “pyorrhea is similar to scurvy [caused by inadequate vitamin C]. The gums bleed easily, become soft and spongy, the bony tissues give way.” She reports that “Dr. Martin C. E. Hanke of the University of Chicago corrected pyorrhea in an orphanage of several hundred children by giving them 16 ounces of orange juice, to which had been added the juice of one lemon every day. Vitamin C is highly concentrated in these fruit juices.” She also states that “by taking 300 to 1000 milligrams of vitamin C daily in natural foods, or using vitamin-C tablets,” you can help to halt the destructive process.
Pyorrhea is recognized to be more common and more severe with increased age, so that with each passing year there is a greater chance of your having it. If you already have a form of gum disease, the chances are that it will get worse and not better with the passage of time, that is, unless it is treated.
As with other gum disorders, pyorrhea is best prevented by proper oral hygiene. Tooth brushing and flossing of the teeth are particularly important before going to bed. After a meal during the day, if it is not convenient to brush your teeth, you may be able to eat some foods that have a natural cleansing effect. These are hard, fibrous foods such as salads and raw fruits.
Like most problems, gum disorders have small beginnings, but the potential is there to make big problems. There are persons who naturally have good healthy teeth and gums even with little or no care on their part. But by far the majority need to practice good oral hygiene to avoid and control diseases of the gums.