Healthy gums are more than just an ‘optional extra’ says Canterbury dentist, Bob Dubbins.
When most people think about visiting their dentist, they probably assume that any examinations or treatment will always be related to their teeth. This isn’t surprising; even the ‘dent’ in ‘dentist’ comes from the French and Latin word for ‘tooth’.
Whilst this may once have been the case, nowadays, dentists are concerned not just with the teeth, but with full mouth health.
One of the most common problems associated with the mouth, other than tooth decay, is that of gum disease. Many patients are probably unaware that gum disease is actually responsible for more tooth loss than decay is. Thankfully, awareness is growing, and, at Bradley and Partners Dental and Implant Clinic, we have an important role to play in helping patients achieve healthy gums.
What is gum disease?
Gum disease occurs when the number of bacteria in our mouth is not kept under control. When this happens, the bacteria will start to affect the gums, often causing some discomfort. If not treated early enough, this can also damage the bone holding our teeth in place. When this happens, the tooth can become loose, and may eventually fall out.
There are two general stages to gum disease; gingivitis and periodontitis. Most people will have the former, to some degree, at some point in their life. Sometimes, this may be temporary and may be reversed when brushing improves and with the help of a dental hygienist. Once periodontitis occurs though, professional help will always be needed to treat the problem.
Prevention of gum disease
Keeping our gums healthy is not overly difficult and there are a number of everyday things that patients can, and should do, to keep their gums as healthy as possible.
Clean their teeth – This should be a given, but there are ways that can help to improve it. Make sure that you brush for at least two minutes, using a toothbrush that is no more than three months old. You should also angle the bristles towards the gums so that they reach just beneath the gum line where bacteria can collect. There are also a number of toothpastes available that contain ingredients that help to remove some of the excess ‘bad’ bacteria too.
Use dental floss – Bacteria will collect in the smallest of spaces, including those between our teeth. Often, these spaces are too small or difficult to access with a toothbrush. To make sure that this area is clean, dental floss is essential. The fact is that only around one in five of us actually use dental floss, meaning that many people are at a higher risk of gum disease. One of the most common reasons people give for not using floss is that they find it ‘fiddly’ or ‘tricky’ to use. This may be the case initially, but once you have mastered it, something that doesn’t take long, it will be a great aid to keeping both teeth and gums in good condition.
Drinking and smoking
Both of these habits are bad for your gums. Smoking, and excessive drinking, can irritate the gums and also slow down healing by restricting blood flow in the gum area. They can also cause a dry mouth which provides the ideal conditions for bacteria to thrive. If you have ever noticed a sticky ‘goo’ in your mouth in the morning, after drinking, that is actually bacterial build up in plaque.
You should definitely stop smoking. It may be easier said than done, but smoking has so many negative effects on the mouth that it really isn’t worth it. Not only is it gum disease which is increased by this habit, but severely discoloured teeth and oral cancer risks too, are greatly increased.
Make sure to stay well hydrated, whether you smoke or not. It is not only good for your general well being, but will help to keep your mouth healthy too.
Gum disease treatment
Sometimes, you may suspect that you have gum disease. Sore or sensitive gums, gums that bleed when brushing and smelly breath, are all likely symptoms of this problem. Gum disease can strike though, without any really obvious symptoms.
In addition to looking after your teeth, as above, regular dental check ups are essential to monitor for gum disease. We also strongly recommend that you see the hygienist at our Canterbury practice as they play a very important role in helping you to have the best oral health possible. Usually, these appointments are six monthly, but some patients at a higher risk, such as diabetics, may wish to be seen more frequently.
The hygienist has a number of roles to play.
Education – This is great for both children and adults. They will ask you a number of questions about your cleaning habits and lifestyle choices; e.g. whether you smoke or not. From this, they will offer advice on changes that will be beneficial for your oral health. They will not ‘lecture’ you. Although you may be advised, for example, to stop smoking, the choice is yours. But it is important that you have the facts though so that you can make an informed decision.
The hygienist will also perform a procedure known as a ‘scale and polish’. This will remove any hardened tartar that has become stuck to the teeth and gum line. It is not possible to remove this with home brushing.
The procedure is painless and no anaesthetic is necessary. Initially, the excess bacteria is gently scraped away from the teeth. This is followed by the use of a sonic tool which shatters most of the remaining tartar, freeing it from the tooth surface. Finally, a high speed brush is used to remove any remaining bacteria and tartar residues. After this, you will find that your teeth feel cleaner and smoother. An added bonus is that the high speed polishing will also remove some surface staining from your teeth, brightening them a little.
There is another treatment used to treat gum disease, known as a ‘deep clean’ or ‘root scaling’. This is performed when the bacteria start to affect the underlying bone structure. We will discuss this in more detail in the future, but, for now, simply say that this is a far more invasive procedure that has to be carried out using a local anaesthetic, by a suitably qualified specialist dentist. With good preventative care, this treatment should be avoidable.
If you have not had a gum health check recently, and would like to see the hygienist at Bradley and Partners Dental and Implant Clinic, please call us to arrange an appointment on 01227 463529.
Bob Dubbins – GDC number 56096