Are your gums killing you?

  • Published
  • By U.S. Coast Guard Cdr. Deborah Smith
  • Kaehler Memorial Medical Clinic
Everyone gets the "flossing lecture" and "gum disease warnings." For many people, this may seem absurd. You brush every day, several times even. Use a killer mouthwash that makes your mouth tingly fresh. You get an exam and cleaning every year, maybe you've never had a cavity or filling in your life. So what's the problem and why are you being bothered with such a trivial task?

As trivial as it may seem, there are many good reasons why we make such a fuss over flossing. Flossing can prevent problems like gingivitis, periodontal disease and some recent studies have linked these conditions to heart disease and other health risks.

Gingivitis: The most commonly recognized term in mouthwash advertisement. It's an infection that attacks below the gum line where your toothbrush cannot reach. You may not even know you have it. The stages can range from minor bleeding with flossing or brushing in only one area to red tender gums with bleeding in several areas. Early detection can only be done during your dental exam. The early stage is easy to treat and fully reversible

Periodontal (gum) disease: Left untreated, gingivitis progresses into periodontal disease. The bacteria beneath the gums cause destruction and loss of the bone around the tooth. As the bone is destroyed, a pocket develops. The more severe the disease, the greater the depth of the pocket and the more difficult it becomes to clean. When severe, even flossing will no longer reach. This is a very gradual destructive process; tricky, because as it progresses it does so in spurts and not all teeth are affected at the same time and to the same degree. This is why most people don't notice how severe it is getting ... until it's too late. Depending on how much bone is lost, the treatment can be anything from a deep cleaning to surgery. Periodontal disease is not self correcting. It will continue to get worse unless treated. Ignored and unchecked, patients lose their teeth and end up with complete or partial dentures.

Heart disease and other health risks: Studies have shown diseased gums release bacterial chemicals called endotoxins into the bloodstream that can damage organs. These endotoxins may trigger blood clots which can cause heart attack or stroke, high blood pressure and elevated cholesterol. Gum disease has also been linked to difficult-to control diabetes, increased risk of osteoporosis in women, and an increased risk of rheumatoid arthritis.

So, something that seems like such a trivial task can have an enormous impact not only on your oral health but your future overall health as well. There are many flossing aids available to help those that have a difficult time maneuvering the floss. Brushing is great ... don't stop, but do floss morning and night. And always before going to sleep. It only takes a couple of minutes. Get the kids flossing so it becomes a normal part of their oral hygiene routine.