I've been consulting with patients from as far away as Australia, Switzerland, and England. They all seem to have similar questions. You probably have your patients ask you, or your hygiene team, these questions:
- Why do I have gum disease since I brush and floss every day?
- Why hasn't my dentist been able to give me the answers?
- Can my advanced gum disease be treated without surgically cutting my gums?
- Are my kids destined to suffer as I have?
- Can I spread gum disease to my partner like the germs of a cold?
1. Why do I have gum disease?
I tell my patients that while brushing and flossing are important, there are many other not-so-obvious causes of gum disease:
- Certain foods affect the bacteria in our gut, which in turn affect the bacteria in our mouth. Processed foods such as grains and sugars can create an increase in unhealthy bacteria in the gut. When bad bacteria get out of control in the gut, the harmful bacteria in the mouth also increases. These harmful bacteria that become dominant in the mouth then cause other bacteria to overgrow in the dental plaque. When these bacteria predominate, they ferment the refined grains and sugars that we eat to form acids and inflammation. A vicious cycle begins between the foods we eat and the bacteria in the body, which can result in advancing tooth decay and gum disease.
- Diet also contributes to the health of patients' immune system, which in turn contributes to the health of their mouth. If your patients are not eating the foods that are necessary for health, their immune system will be affected.
- Likewise, emotional stress also can affect the immune system. Cases have been reported in which individuals under significant emotional stress developed severe inflammation and gum sores without the abundance of unhealthy bacteria.
- In addition, environmental chemicals that get into our body can disrupt our cells' ability to function properly. These chemicals can be in the food we eat, the air we breathe, and the water we drink. If cells don't function properly, chronic inflammation could occur. Chronic inflammation can cause havoc throughout our system, including our mouth.
2. Why hasn't my dentist been able to give me the answers?
In dental school, we learned about the obvious causes of dental disease, and we learned traditional treatments to repair damaged teeth and gums. What wasn't covered, at least when I went to dental school, was the nutritional, environmental, and psychological causes of oral disease.
Some patients have had pressing questions that have forced me to do more research into these other causes of dental disease. Without this additional knowledge, I would not have been able to answer some of my patients' pressing questions.
3. Is nonsurgical treatment possible?
Today, regenerative procedures can assist the body to heal from advanced gum disease without using scalpels and without using stitches. These procedures use a specific laser protocol using a specific wavelength. These procedures have been shown to kill bacteria that cause periodontitis and stimulate the growth of new bone, periodontal ligament, and cementum.
My patients have generally been appreciative of the opportunity for treatment without traditional surgery.
4. Are my kids destined to suffer as I have?
When I am asked if patients' children will suffer the same gum disease issues as their parents, I tell my patients that their children need to be taught good oral hygiene and that nutritional and environmental factors need to be controlled to help their children be healthy.
If the parents eat healthy foods and promote a healthy lifestyle, then the kids will be positively influenced. I believe that patients and parents must become educated in what is healthy and what is not. Children do not have to develop dental decay or gum disease.
5. Can I spread gum disease like a cold?
This is an interesting question. The bacteria causing gum disease are not airborne like the viruses that cause colds. However, a 2005 study in the Journal of Clinical Periodontology (October 2005, Vol. 32:s6, pp. 16-27) suggested they may be transmitted between partners through intimate kissing. Based on a person's immune system, these unhealthy bacteria from one partner may or may not affect the other partner.
A version of this column first ran on Dr. Danenberg's blog. DrBicuspid.com appreciates the opportunity to reprint it. His book Crazy-Good Living from Elektra Press is available here.
Alvin Danenberg, DDS, practices at the Bluffton Center for Dentistry in Bluffton, SC. He is also on the faculty of the College of Integrative Medicine and created its integrative periodontal teaching module. He also spent two years as chief of periodontics at Charleston Air Force Base earlier in his career. His website is drdanenberg.com.
The comments and observations expressed herein do not necessarily reflect the opinions of DrBicuspid.com, nor should they be construed as an endorsement or admonishment of any particular idea, vendor, or organization.