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Reversing Gum Disease NaturallyA Holistic Home Care Program
By Sandra Senzon
John Wiley & Sons, Inc.Copyright © 2003 Sandra Senzon
All right reserved.
Chapter OneGum Disease
Its Signs, and the First Steps Toward Healing
Understanding Gum Disease
With increased awareness of periodontal disease and a greater selection of dental hygiene products available, why is gum disease the most commonly diagnosed health problem among today's American adult population, affecting approximately 40 million people? Since this disease of the mouth has a destructive nature, it is important that you follow the guidelines described in this book to help begin the healing process. People have been losing their teeth as part of the aging process; however, with routine cleanings and good home care, we can all keep our natural teeth. If you exercise preventive care, it is not unreasonable to expect your teeth and gums to last a lifetime.
To understand gum disease in simple terms, think of your teeth rooted in bone the way a plant is rooted in soil. If the soil supporting the plant begins to erode, the plant will loosen and bend. The same thing can happen with your teeth. If the bone that supports the teeth in their sockets begins to erode, the teeth will loosen and fall out.
The first stage of periodontal disease is called gingivitis: gingiv (gum tissue) and itis (inflammation). This initial stage is characterized by loose, swollen, tender, and/or bleeding gums. The loose, flabby gum tissue allows pockets to form between the teeth and the gum tissue-pockets in which food debris can collect and harmful bacteria can multiply. The bacteria may then attack the neighboring jawbone, causing it to erode. When bone loss has occurred, the disease has progressed to the second stage. This is known as periodontitis, and is classified as early, moderate, or advanced, depending on the degree of bone destruction.
What causes gingivitis? Gingivitis is a bacterial infection of the gum tissue. Bacteria live in plaque, a sticky film that accumulates on your teeth every day. Plaque needs to be removed by proper oral home care. If it is not removed properly, the toxins in the plaque will cause the gums to get irritated and infected. Plaque left on the teeth and not disrupted by brushing and flossing will calcify and turn into calculus (commonly called "tartar"). Brushing and flossing cannot remove calculus; it must be removed by a professional. Calculus found caked on the roots of diseased teeth, in addition to containing bacterial toxins, is a mechanical irritant to the soft tissue.
Signs of Disease
There are many signs that indicate the presence of gum disease. They can include:
Halitosis, or bad breath. An end product of this disease process and tissue breakdown is very often mouth malodor, or halitosis, commonly called "bad breath." Although halitosis is a common symptom of periodontal disease, it may be caused by other health problems or conditions as well, such as gastritis (acid stomach). If your breath is sour in the morning, it might be due to dehydration or loss of saliva during sleep. And certain allergies can leave a bacterial mucous that mixes with your saliva and causes bad breath. Many medications also have side effects that can leave you with bad breath. Therefore, you should seek out a professional for a diagnosis of what is causing the halitosis.
However, to determine if you have halitosis, cup your hands over your mouth and breathe out. Then smell. If you detect an odor, then you probably have bad breath. Or ask your spouse or a close friend to inform you if you have this problem. To determine if the halitosis is originating from your mouth, try smelling your dental floss after you have used it. If the floss has a foul odor, the halitosis is probably emanating from your teeth and gums.
Malpositioned teeth. Another warning sign of periodontal disease is loose and malpositioned teeth. Teeth will move out of place due to bone loss. If your teeth are moving out of position and seem to overlap, or if gaps are forming between your teeth, this may be a warning sign that you have gum disease. There are other reasons for loose teeth, such as a fractured root, so do seek a professional to obtain a proper diagnosis. Do not try to diagnose the condition yourself!
Receding gums. Have you ever heard the expression, "long in the tooth"? This is used to describe receding gums, or gums that are "backing away" from the teeth. The condition is the result of gum and bone loss and subsequent root exposure, thus giving the tooth a longer appearance. Sensitivity can occur as well, because the root does not have an enamel covering. Enamel covers the crowns of your teeth and acts as a protective covering.
Bleeding gums. Do your gums bleed when you brush your teeth? Bleeding around your gums is an important indication of periodontal disease and is often the first sign you may notice. Bleeding, as well as inflammation and irritation of the gums, may also signal other medical problems, so do not ignore these signs. Seek a professional opinion. Such bleeding also can be a result of the gum tissue drying out. This can occur if you wear braces or have other problems that keep your lips from closing over your teeth. Allergies may block the nasal passages, leaving you no choice but to breathe through your mouth. The result of mouth breathing, rather than breathing through your nose with your mouth closed, may be gingivitis. An open mouth can cause the tissue to dry out and become loose and irritated. Or, if you have allergies and your saliva has a lot of excess bacteria and mucous, the fragile gum tissue can become infected. People who suffer from postnasal drip have a great deal of mucus in the saliva, and this causes irritated gums.
Gum abscesses. A gum abscess can be another sign of gum disease. If an area of your mouth appears to have a swelling or a lump above the tooth, then you may well have a gum abscess. The invasive bacteria within the abscess will eat away at the supportive bone. The onset of gum disease can begin with just one abscess on one tooth. Bacteria will eat away at the bone surrounding the tooth, resulting in less support to the tooth and ultimately in tooth loss if not properly cared for. An abscess does not necessarily have pain associated with it, but you may have an additional problem originating in the nerve, which will cause pain.
Gum disease is insidious and can progress without your knowledge. Any early signs of this disease, as described above, need your immediate attention. If you lose bone, which roots your teeth into their sockets, your teeth will lack support and will loosen or fall out. Bone, ligaments, and gum tissue all support the positioning of the teeth. But diseased conditions of our body can be reversed as long as we do not deny that they exist.
The History of Gum Disease
Luckily, many dentists have been true pioneers in the prevention of tooth loss and have helped create the techniques and instruments for scaling teeth that are used today.
Knowledge of gum disease dates back as far as 1746, when Dr. Pierre Fauchard, a surgeon-dentist who is known as the father of modern dentistry, wrote a paper titled Le Chirurgien Dentiste that described gum disease. Dr. Fauchard advised patients to wash out their mouths with tepid water after having cleaned their teeth. After they rinsed, he advised patients to rub the teeth from below upward, and from above downward-outside and inside-with a little sponge dipped in water. He also claimed it was good to use a half-round toothpick to remove what he called the "fur" that collects on or between the teeth and gums during the night. His advice to remove this sticky film with a toothpick was very advanced for his time, and his ideas presaged today's use of picks to scale teeth.
In 1845 Dr. John Hankey Riggs was the first to call attention to gum disease in America. Periodontal disease thus became known as "Riggs disease." Few professionals currently refer to gum disease as Riggs disease, however. Today's terms are: gum disease, periodontal disease, or gingivitis. My own approach is much the same as his: to treat the condition as a curable disease by cleaning the pockets surrounding the teeth. With a thorough cleaning, the bacteria and toxins are removed from between the teeth and surrounding bone, thus reversing gum disease.
Dr. Riggs is given credit for designing scalers and curettes-instruments that we still use today to remove the hardened stone (tartar) from the roots of our teeth and the diseased layer of granular (thickened diseased tissue) that sits next to the tartar. The roots of our teeth are not straight up and down, but curve at angles under the gum tissue. Thus the scalers and curettes were designed with contraangles (curved angles) to conform to the roots and remove any material in the pockets. A dental cleaning using these instruments is the most important preventive treatment for periodontal disease.
One of the first dentists in America to establish a preventive dental practice was Dr. David Smith of Philadelphia in 1894. Prophylactic services (cleaning of teeth), although beneficial to patients, were time-consuming, and so reduced the amount of time dentists were able to allocate to restorative treatment. Thus there were fewer dentists back then who performed preventive care. Most were restorative dentists, who focused on fixing the nonregenerative enamel and dentin, the hardened materials of our teeth. Dr. Alfred C. Fones, another pioneer, believed that training auxiliary personnel to provide prophylactic care was an efficient solution to this problem. Dental hygiene thus can be traced back to Dr. Fones, as he felt there should be a separation between restorative care and gum disease, and he was the first to initiate a program for dental hygiene. A dental hygienist is a licensed professional who cleans away the tartar (hardened plaque) from the teeth and roots under the gums. Dr. Fones created a school for dental hygiene in Bridgeport, Connecticut, in 1898.
It was understood even then that not enough emphasis was put on educating children and teaching them the importance of proper oral hygiene. It was known as far back as 1898 that a clean tooth would not decay. So dental hygiene became an important profession in helping adults and children prevent adult tooth decay and tooth loss. The dental hygienist would clean teeth, educate and motivate the patients in home care, and then recommend treatment for restorative care by the dentist. The dental hygienist's role was an important one-even more than it is today-for there were fewer dentists at that time.
In 1939 Dr. A. W. Byran tried to make the dental profession aware of causative factors in gum disease and attempted to have the profession focus on prevention and diagnosis, rather than only on the symptoms of the disease. He argued against drug treatment, maintaining that unless the drugs were directed at a specific site of infection, they were not treating the condition scientifically. He was also against the surgical removal of unattached tissue because it did not address the cause and only dealt with symptoms.
Dr. Byran and Dr. Riggs had more insight into the subject of the reversal of gum disease naturally than many gum specialists (periodontists) do today, as cutting away at diseased and unattached tissue is still widely practiced. While surgical removal of gum tissue instantly shrinks the pocket collecting bacteria, the tissue remains thinner at a higher point on the tooth. And if the periodontist does not address the cause and motivate the person to practice proper home care and oral hygiene, the condition can appear again and cause breakdown in a more vulnerable area.
The Natural Process of Healing: How It Begins
The natural reversal process of gum disease starts with proper instrumentation in the dental office. If you have gum disease, the first step is to go to a dentist's office for a cleaning. Dental hygienists and dentists are trained specifically to treat the gums and provide proper cleanings to help eliminate the hardened material or tartar that attaches to the tooth and root structure. It is important for the hygienist or the dentist to do a thorough cleaning and to work with hand instruments (see chapter 6) for these procedures. Many offices today rely on high-tech equipment such as the ultrasonic scaler and the Prophy Jet. But focused therapeutic healing can also come from the practitioner, traveling through the hands, through the instruments, and into the patient's mouth. High-tech instruments, such as the sonic scaler (high-speed ultrasonic tartar remover), can be an obstacle to this kind of healing. (Therapeutic healing will be discussed in chapter 6.)
Your mouth may require more than one cleaning; it all depends on the severity of your condition. If your mouth is in the second or third stage of periodontal disease, then you might have to return for three or four treatments. A return for maintenance can be as frequent as four or five times a year. After a root planing treatment (a cleaning of the roots so that healing can take place), the tissue will begin to reattach to the root and return to a healthy state. After the removal of tartar, you can use a natural process at home to heal the tissue (this will be discussed in chapter 9). This is equally as important as getting a thorough professional cleaning. Proper home care can help speed up the results of the gum treatments that are done in the dental office.
After you have root planing and scaling in the dentist's office, you will discover that your gum tissue will be sore and fragile. So go home and use distilled warm water with sea salt or an herbal rinse, preferably Dr. Vogel's Bioforce (Dentaforce), to enable the tissue to heal. Rinse your mouth frequently and also massage the tissue with a soft brush. Such soreness tells us it is important to work in a slow and careful fashion. You would not beat up on a wound that was raw and new. So keep in mind that all healing is a gentle process and takes time.
These are the six steps that will happen when you go in for a holistic cleaning or gum treatment.
1. The dentist or periodontist reviews the patient's condition and charts the pockets with a periodontal probe (Pockets over 4 mm are considered a prerequisite for gum disease.) Charting of the teeth allows professionals to make note of their evaluation of your mouth. They will also document crowns and bridges, missing teeth, teeth that show broken fillings, and teeth that have decay and need fillings or root canals.
Excerpted from Reversing Gum Disease Naturally by Sandra Senzon Copyright © 2003 by Sandra Senzon . Excerpted by permission.
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