“Savvy Senior” tells us about gum disease — the current statistics, the causes and effects, and the simple preventive measures we can take. Gum disease is more common — and more dangerous than you think. Periotherapy and good oral hygiene are the best weapons against gum disease.
Gum disease — silent but deadly.
October 16, 2007
Dear Savvy Senior: I recently read that gum disease can cause all different types of deadly health conditions. As a senior who brushes regularly and flosses occasionally, what can you tell me about this? — Hate to Floss
Dear Floss: By taking better care of your mouth (which includes daily flossing), you could actually add years to your life! Here’s what you should know.
Dental Services If you don’t have dental insurance or can’t afford professional dental care, some communities and clinics offer discounted or free services to seniors in need, and most dental schools offer low-cost checkups and cleanings. Contact your state dental association (see www.ada.org/ada/organizations ) or your Area Agency on Aging (call (800) 677-1116 to get your local number) to find out what may be available in your area. Also check out the Bureau of Primary Health Care ( www.ask.hrsa.gov/pc ; (888) 275-4772) and the National Foundation of Dentistry for the Handicapped ( www.nfdh.org — click on “Donated Dental Services” or call (888) 471-6334).
Also known as periodontal disease, gum disease is a silent epidemic in this country. Currently, 80 percent of all adults in the United States have some form of gum disease – which ranges from simple gum inflammation (called gingivitis), to serious a disease (called periodontitis) that can infect the gums, bone and other tissue surrounding the teeth.
If you have gum disease, you have greatly increased your risk of having a heart attack or stroke. How? Because the bacteria-rich plaque that builds up on your teeth (that’s what causes gum disease) releases toxins into your bloodstream that can inflame your arteries and cause small blood clots. But that’s not all. There are other health problems linked to gum disease such as pancreatic cancer, respiratory diseases, kidney disease, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, stomach ulcers and even pregnancy complications.
Are you at risk?
Most people develop gum disease because they simply don’t keep their mouths clean. But there are other factors that can increase your risk, including:
• Smoking: Need another reason to quit? Smoking is the number one risk factor for gum disease.
• Age: Older people have a greater risk of periodontal disease because they have more wear and tear on their gums.
• Genetics: If you have a family history of gum disease your risk goes up.
• Medications: Some medications (antihistamines, antidepressants, high blood pressure medications, some heart medicines and many others) can cause dry mouth, and the lack of saliva contributes to gum disease. If you have dry mouth, talk to your doctor or dentist.
• Deficient diet: A diet lacking proper amounts of calcium and vitamin C can contribute to gum disease too.
• Hormonal changes: Changes that occur during pregnancy, menopause or even menstruation can make gums more susceptible for women.
• Diabetes: People with diabetes have a higher risk of developing gum disease. It also makes blood glucose levels harder to control.
Savvy Tip: Check your risk for gum disease at www.perio.org — click on “Assess Your Gum Disease Risk.”
It only takes about five minutes a day to keep your gums healthy. Here are some simple and familiar ways you can take the bite out of gum disease:
• Brush: At least twice a day brush your teeth using fluoride toothpaste and learn how to brush properly. See www.webmd.com/oral-health for a refresher course on brushing and flossing. Also use a toothbrush that has soft bristles. Hard or stiff bristles are more likely to injure your gums. And be sure to replace your brush every three months or so. (Tip: Power toothbrushes with rotating or vibrating bristles have shown to be more effective at removing plaque than manual brushes. See www.oralb.com for oral care products.)
• Floss: Do it at least once a day either before or after you brush. The sequence doesn’t matter as long as you do a thorough job. Flossing removes plaque and food particles from between the teeth and under the gum line and is absolutely necessary.• Get checkups: See your dentist every six months for regular cleanings and oral exams.