Holistically Fighting Gum Disease
By: Dr. Steven Swidler
A recently published dental bulletin states that, “almost all Americans, except the millions who already wear false teeth, have some form of gum disease.” Over the past decade, there has been mounting evidence that points to the relation of cardiovascular disease, stroke, atherosclerosis and vascular disease in patients with higher levels of gum—or periodontal—disease.
What Causes Periodontal Disease?
The mouth routinely harbors about 300 different varieties of bacteria, however it has been scientifically proven that the troublemakers are spirochetes, motile rods and cocci. If these nasty bugs can be reduced below certain levels, the body can heal itself.
Our teeth are encompassed by bone and attached to our gums by a periodontal ligament. A space, or crevice, just under the gum line, which is measurable and varies between 1 and 3 millimeters, is a natural hiding place for the hundreds of good and bad bacteria our mouths naturally harbor. When these bacteria are not cleansed routinely through tooth brushing, flossing, oil pulling and other cleansing techniques, a low-grade infection or gingivitis can occur.
Gingivitis is the beginning of a potentially harmful disease process which, if left untreated, can result in tooth loss and significantly increases the risk of cardiovascular disease. Swollen, bleeding gums harbor bacteria, which travels through the enlarged blood vessels through the blood stream and to the entire body, much of which has been proven to settle in the heart.
In understanding the etiology of gum disease, it is well to keep in mind that no two human beings are exactly alike. There is a wide variation in any individual’s resistive ability when it comes to fighting off gum disease. According to many studies, in a large sample of people whose general health would be considered good, a few would have such strong resistance that their gums and supportive bone stays healthy even if they were very neglectful of oral hygiene, eating habits and the like. Another small group would be highly prone even if they were very conscientious. A large group in the middle would suffer what might be called typical gum disease.
Some people will suffer from what could be called “magnified” gum problems. Gum disease can be exacerbated by many conditions, including stress, immunosuppression, malnutrition, endocrine abnormalities and mouth chemistry. Therefore, one who has been using all the right methods of eliminating the cause of gum disease, yet still having problems, should analyze the possibility of some intrinsic factor that might be complicating the overall health picture.
Being treated medically for any number of problems can also have side effects complicating the gum disease situation. For example, about 500 different commercially prepared drugs can cause a reduction in the amount of saliva flow. Reduced salivary flow can have an extremely damaging effect on the teeth, gums and supportive bone.
Minimizing or Reversing Periodontal Disease
Part of the solution lies in cleansing this crevice of the toxic waste products from harmful bacteria. Brushing and flossing are just part of a healthy dental routine. A healthy and effective alternative to toothpaste is a do-it-yourself toothpaste remedy that has been around for decades. Take equal parts of salt and baking soda in a “dipping bowl” and, using a damp toothbrush, dip into the powder mixture and brush. You may need to reapply as necessary. This technique might be a bit messy and not taste great, but will do wonders for decreasing the biofilm buildup and inflammation associated with early stage periodontal disease. This oral hygiene method can be included a few times per week as a maintenance or preventive means to battle gum disease.
Holistic dentistry focuses on treating the whole body and not just the symptoms, as with mainstream health care, so it is no surprise that the discipline stresses good nutrition and gut health—key factors among those that enjoy freedom from dental problems. Teeth, like bones, are made up of primarily calcium and phosphorus. Individuals, who, at any time in their lives, have been shortchanged of these two valuable elements in their diet, will most likely suffer a degree of adverse dental effects, such as soft teeth or weak bone support for the roots.
The saliva that is produced for us by glands in and around the mouth contains calcium and phosphorus in solution, along with various enzymes. The calcium and phosphorus ions help to keep teeth strong by depositing themselves in the outer layers of the teeth. Therefore, under the right conditions, teeth are constantly being hardened or mineralized.
The key to avoiding the effects of most types of gum disease in human beings should include a multifactorial approach, outlined below.
• A focus on proper nutrition and gastrointestinal health, to decrease overall inflammation and immune issues
• Test and monitor mouth alkalinity/acidity
• A consistent and thorough oral hygiene program including, but not limited to, brushing, flossing, use of a Waterpik and in many cases, oil pulling
• Smoking cessation
• Safe and effective home care products
• Drinking plenty of water
• Brush teeth or swish with water immediately after eating highly acidic foods or drinking lemon water
• Regular hygiene and dental check-ups