Taking care of your gums to take care of your heart.
For many years, those of you who have attended your dentist for regular check-ups have probably regarded a scale and polish from the dentist or hygienist as a purely cosmetic ‘add-on,’ getting rid of those stains from tea, coffee, red wine and (dare we mention it?), a cigarette or three.
Although those of us involved at the ‘coal face’ of dental health have tried, over many years, to convince our patients that this is more than just for appearance’ sake, and of the benefit of maintaining their periodontal (gum) health, recent research has given even more importance to this oft-ignored aspect of oral health than simply keeping a great smile, or even keeping teeth for life. It has become clear from the results of many studies that gum health is crucial in maintaining the health of the rest of our bodies.
Periodontal disease is painless for most of it’s course, and is also the most common disease on the planet, affecting around 95% of the population at any one time.
Whilst it remains the single most common reason for teeth being lost, untreated gum disease means that your body is hosting some really nasty bacteria which, if left alone, can migrate to other parts of the body, and can initiate systemic disorders such as coronary heart disease, diabetes, pancreatic cancer, low birth-weight and premature births, Alzheimer’s, along with non-specific respiratory and kidney diseases.
It has even been linked to erectile dysfunction. If that isn’t a reason for men reaching for the floss, I don’t know what else would be!
One study, published last year, suggested that having your teeth scaled on a regular basis could actually cut the risk of having a heart attack by as much as 25%!
OK, no need to panic here, most of you who take your dental health seriously are not going to be at any greater risk of these problems. However, it makes sense to be aware of the facts concerning periodontal disease.
Although a small percentage, approximately 10-15%, of the population will be genetically more susceptible to gum disease than most of us, it is really important that we all have our own risk assessment carried out by our dental professionals.
For most, this will simply mean that a regular scaling and polishing regime carried out by a dentist or hygienist will be enough to negate the more serious risks.
Some people will require more regular treatment if they are deemed to be more susceptible, or may even need referral to a periodontologist, who will be able to offer specialist advice and treatment.
A pocket is a gap that forms between the root of the tooth and the gum of varying depths. As the pockets deepen, bone is lost.
This pocketing is caused by plaque not being removed effectively on a daily basis
plaque that is not removed will harden into a substance called tartar (or calculus)
Once tartar is formed, it can only be removed by a hygienist
Tartar can also form in the pockets and if left unchecked, will lead to bone loss and eventual tooth loss.
Prevention of gum disease is better than cure!
Scaling and polishing alone, even at 3 monthly intervals, will not heal unhealthy gums.
Tooth cleaning isn’t just about removing food, it is also about removing plaque.
Plaque is a sticky film containing bacteria that we all have in our mouths.
As soon as you finish cleaning your teeth, plaque will start forming again, becoming more harmful with time – hence the need for good daily plaque control.
Tartar is a hard substance similar to the ‘fur’ in a kettle and can only be removed by your hygienist, we all build up tartar, and regular removal is necessary.
Brushing correctly twice a day – your tooth brush should be small headed and a medium texture. An electric toothbrush has been shown to be more effective.
All surfaces of the teeth need to be reached . Remember: Cheek sides, insides and biting surfaces, the bristles need to reach all of the gum margins (where the tooth meets the gum).
DO NOT STOP IF YOUR GUMS BLEED – THEY BLEED BECAUSE THEY ARE UNHEALTHY, this will improve quickly if you follow the advice above.
Cleaning in-between teeth:
This should be done at least once a day.
A toothbrush will not reach in-between your teeth, for this you need one of several tools, either: floss/tape, floss picks, TePe brushes or Corsodyl sticks.
These interdental cleaners are the only way to remove this sticky plaque that will also form in-between teeth.
Floss – should be introduced between the teeth with a gentle ‘to-and-fro’ motion and then in an ‘up-and-down’ direction, going just under the gum.
TePes and Corsodyl sticks – gently push these between each tooth at gum level.
So next time you visit your dentist, do ask about your gums, and how they may shape your overall health!
Dr Tony Stacey BDS Principal Dentist
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