People interested in holistic and biological dental care have paid attention to the recent media focus about the link between gingivitis or gum disease and other diseases. Because the mouth is the gateway to the body, infection in the mouth can be a vital indicator of what is going on in the system as a whole. Three out four people already have or will have periodontal or gum disease, which affects more people than heart disease, Alzheimer’s, cancer and diabetes combined. In all cases, early discovery and treatment of gum problems is vital.
Periodontal infection is generally caused by a combination of stress, acidity, and improper oral hygiene. Redness and bleeding upon brushing and flossing signal inflammation, indicating that the immune system is releasing white blood cells to resist the build up of bacteria. As immune cells die off the bacteria tend to survive relatively unaffected. Meanwhile, a proteolytic enzyme meant for bacterial break-down is released into the gums, causing the tissue to break down instead. This causes the gums to pull away from the teeth, creating open pockets that breed more bacteria.
As this process continues bone around the teeth will be re-absorbed, until an advanced stage where tooth loss may occur. All this may occur without any symptoms or pain, which is why the Surgeon General has named periodontal disease “the Silent Epidemic.” During the stages of this disease bacteria from the gums may access our bloodstream, traveling to the brain and other organs such as the heart. Research has been published showing that fatal coronary heart disease is twice as likely and stroke is three times more likely in patients with periodontal infection than in those without.
Periodontal infection is involved in other conditions as well such as pre-term births, diabetes, and rheumatoid arthritis. Smokers are three times more likely to have periodontal disease and to actually lose some of their teeth than non-smokers. Gum disease also increases the risk of pneumonia for respiratory sufferers.
Research shows that up to 30% of the population may be genetically susceptible to periodontitis, which is also communicable and can be passed between family members. Nutrition and stress are important factors. Too much sugar creates an acidic environment in the mouth and too much stress makes it difficult for the body to resist infection. Medications like anti-depressants, oral contraceptives and some heart medicines can also affect oral tissue.
Treatment matches the stage of the disease. When gum pockets are so deep they can no longer be restored, the only treatment possible has usually been costly and painful periodontal surgery. We now have a treatment available in which a soft tissue laser is used as part of a monitored program of cleaning and maintenance. This approach is done in conjunction with the patient’s careful home hygiene and, in some cases, nutritional support. Special rinses to kill targeted bacteria may also be used.
This effective treatment has become the cornerstone of our bio-compatible approach to periodontal disease, for which antibiotics and surgery are a last resort. Our methods have an excellent success rate with prevention and reversal of gum problems. When the patient participates fully in the program, inflamed, bleeding gums can return to their naturally pink state. It also reduces pocketing, tooth mobility and bad breath. Combining this holistic and biological therapy with other support has been successful in stabilizing loose teeth and making periodontal surgery unnecessary in many cases.
Dr. Carey O’Rielly is a holistic dentist in San Diego, California who truly understands and practices the tenets of holistic health, both as a practitioner and in his personal life. His remarkable knowledge of the field came about through years of study and experience, initiated by his own work-related health challenges.