It’s something dentists see on a daily basis – periodontal, or gum disease – and it’s easily prevented.
Occurring at any age, it’s the most common dental problem for adults and it often develops slowly and pain free.
Your gums are an important part of your mouth, holding the teeth in place. Without proper care, the plaque that forms on your teeth daily will harden into tartar, which can only be removed by a professional. If not removed, it can lead to an infection where gums and teeth attach.
The first stage of gum disease is known as gingivitis – your gums may be a bit red and bleed when you brush, but you may not notice anything else. As the condition worsens, infection can form at the point of attachment causing puffy gums, blood on the toothbrush and gum discolouration.
If left untreated, the infection breaks down gum tissue around the teeth and the bone holding the teeth in place. The danger? Teeth become loose and in danger of falling out.
So what are some of the best ways of keeping plaque from hardening? Brushing your teeth twice a day and flossing at least once.
But that’s not all. Nutrition plays a role in good oral health and preventing diseases, such as gum disease.
Dr. Maureen Horne-Paul has been a naturopathic doctor for more than two decades, currently seeing clients in the New Glasgow area. She says there’s a disconnect between health and diet in general, not just when it comes to oral health.
“I don’t think people understand to the extent that what we eat can affect us,” she said.
“Our mouth is the gateway to our body.”
One thing people can do to protect their oral health is to look at how much refined sugar they’re consuming and reducing it as much as possible.
During manufacturing of sugar, a process known as refining is involved. Refining removes impurities and coloured components of the raw sugar, to create what’s known as table sugar or pure sucrose. One of the most common places to find refined sugar is in carbonated drinks (pop) and fruity ones.
“One of the biggest dietary things is sugar, and sugar causes tooth decay,” Horne-Paul said.
But it doesn’t just stop there.
Monitoring the pH (acidic) levels of your saliva and mouth can also be of benefit. Too much acid is association with not only tooth decay, but many other degenerative diseases such as heart disease, arthritis and cancer.
Vitamin C can also help gum issues, according to Horne-Paul. Abscesses are often treated with anti-fungal or anti-bacterial treatments, however adding both Vitamin C and garlic to your daily intake can also help.
Adding more fresh foods into the diet is also a good move (cooked foods for those with problems chewing), said Horne-Paul, who also believes Canada’s Food Guide “got us where we are at with our health.”
“It doesn’t say not to drink pop. It says, for example, to eat more grains. People can go to the store to buy their grain bread, but that’s still loaded with chemicals and preservatives.
There is a real misconception when it comes to diet and what foods we should eat.”
When it comes to visiting the dentist, it’s recommended to make an appointment for a check-up at least yearly.
For Dr. David Dignan, a dentist in Westville, the examination of a patient is crucial.
“The examination counts so much,” he said. “If there’s something going on with your gums, your teeth, or your tissue, we need to be able to see it. That examination is the most important thing for us. There’s nothing better than your basic cleaning and scaling.”
He said those that can’t get in for a cleaning every year should get one done every second year, and at least let the dentist take a look in the meantime.
“Every day, someone comes in with some severity of periodontal disease. It’s something that’s big on our knowledge base.”
Dignan attended a development day in October hosted by orthodontist Dr. Grace Richardson. One of the guest speakers was a periodontist, which Dignan appreciated.
“To have someone come in, it’s a big refresher. There are so many things periodontists can do, such as grafting. We can do it too, but if we don’t do as many, we don’t feel as comfortable doing it. It’s good to have specialists to refer to.”
Richardson has been hosting the development day for the past three years as a way of showing appreciation for dentists referring patients to her, along with dental hygienists and dental assistants. Topics vary each year, but are chosen for the interest in the general population.
Along with the periodontist this year, attendees also heard from lawyers, for example, on contracts between employers and employees.
“It was quite interesting because it’s a topic in school we don’t get much instruction in,” said Dignan. “Contracts with employees – we never had that when I graduated.”
To maintain their license for a three-year term, dentists need a certain number of points garnered from continuing education courses. Many travel to Halifax for the courses, which is why Richardson started offering them in the New Glasgow area.
SIGNS OF GUM DISEASE:
• Colour changes in your gums
• Red gums around teeth
• Bleeding during brushing or flossing
• Recurring bad breath
• Metal taste in mouth
• Puffy, shiny, sore gums
• Sensitive teeth for no reason
Source: Canadian Dental Association