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Gum Disease

By Denise Elliot

Without our gums, we would have no teeth.  It was this exact scenario, when vitamin C was first recognised as being vital for life.

British sailors who were out at sea for years had nothing to stop scurvy, so their teeth began to fall out as the health of their gums deteriorated. Once gum disease was identified as the predominant cause, lemons and limes were then taken to sea, resulting in the term ‘limey’ for the sailors. Vitamin C, critical for gum health is not found in cooked food, as heat and light destroy it very quickly, so we need fresh, raw, fruit and vegetables, or dietary supplementation.

Periodontal disease is the medical term used to describe a disease of the supporting structures (jawbone and gums) of the teeth. Gingivitis is referring specifically to inflammation of the gums, characterised by extreme redness in the gums, swelling and a tendency for the gums to bleed.

Bleeding gums is one of the first signs of gum disease, often seen when brushing or flossing. When gum health is compromised, bacteria may enter the blood stream directly from the gum tissue. This may increase risk factors for serious health concerns such as strokes and heart disease. There is the possibility of causing inflammation of the blood vessels, increasing chances of plaque in the arteries and the hardening of blood vessels.

Direct proof of the cause-and-effect relationship between oral mouth bacteria and heart disease and stroke risk has not been proven 100% (some studies disagree on this point), however more than one study cites at least a 25% increased risk in coronary heart disease.

One study presented in the British Medical Journal in 1993 showed males younger than 50 with periodontitis, were 72% more likely to develop coronary heart disease compared to those healthy research counterparts without the disease.

Epidemiology (the study of distribution and determinants of health related states in populations) has shown that individuals who have pre-existing diabetes, heart disease, and occurrences of strokes, who receive treatment for periodontal disease show substantially reduced overall health care costs. From these studies a potential link can clearly be seen between periodontal disease and coronary heart disease. This information can help oral healthcare professionals identify patients with risks of serious complications from heart disease.

Brushing and flossing twice daily and regular dental visits for a professional clean and check up is the best way to keep your own teeth into old age, and to lessen at least one possible risk factor for heart disease. If the state of your gums is poor it would pay to discuss your concerns with your dentist.