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Periodontal disease: the "other" bone loss. (Letter).

Everyone's talking about osteoporosis, but bone loss from periodontal (gum) disease can be just as devastating. If you lose density from the bones that hold your teeth in place, that bone becomes more vulnerable to periodontal disease and accelerates the rate at which this disease destroys bone. When this happens, you're more likely to lose your teeth and your ability to chew well.

Every cell in your body needs good nutrition, including those in your bones. Your mouth is the doorway to your health and all the nutrients provided by your diet must pass through this sensitive doorway. But the only way you can get vitamins and minerals from your food is if you can efficiently chew the nutritious foods you eat, releasing their nutrients.

The older you are, the more likely it is that you already have some form of gum disease. Fortunately, not all gum disease leads to bone loss. If you act on its warning signs, early stages of gum disease can be reversed. Do this and you can save your teeth and bones, and improve your general health.

Gingivitis (inflammation in your gums) is an early warning sign and the most common type of periodontal disease. By the time you progress to periodontitis, bone loss has already begun. And while this infection can be stopped, its damage can't be reversed.

Gingivitis often occurs in the most neglected areas in the mouth, like in the gums around and in between your back teeth. Early stages are marked by tender red or inflamed gums, and possibly bleeding with any pressure. Advanced gingivitis, or trench mouth, consists of painful swollen gums with more bleeding and requires immediate professional attention. You can slow down and often reverse gingivitis by having a thorough periodontal examination by your dentist or hygienist, having your teeth cleaned regularly, eating a nutritious diet, and with an effective daily oral hygiene program. If you don't, you may be heading towards periodontitis--bone loss.

Periodontitis: When bacteria mix with food, saliva, and other oral debris, they form a sticky substance called plaque. Left alone for even a few hours, the acids produced by these bacteria begin to etch microscopic holes in your enamel--the first stage of tooth decay. As plaque grows and hardens, it can eventually make its way into the space between your teeth and gums (called a periodontal pocket), infecting the gum tissue. Once there, they have an almost unlimited amount of food--your teeth, gum tissue, and jawbone.

If untreated, they will eat away at your teeth and their supporting bones. Periodontal disease needs three things: teeth, bacteria, and food, especially refined foods, such as sugar and white flour products. Remove or reduce any of these three and you can stop or reduce the progression of periodontal disease and bone loss. The obvious place to begin is to reduce your oral colonies of destructive bacteria and the food they love so much--sucrose. It's also time to re-evaluate your personal and professional dental program.

Reducing bacteria

Personal hygiene: Brushing twice a day isn't enough to prevent gum disease and possible bone loss. You also need to floss or use a proxy brush to get in between your teeth, use a rubber tip or toothpick to stimulate your gums, and use a good mouthwash or rinse your mouth often to prevent food or bacteria from sticking around. You also need to use clean toothbrushes. To re-evaluate your personal hygiene program, I suggest you read Dr. Tom McGuire's book, Tooth Fitness (St. Michael's Press, 1994). It's filled with easy-to-understand information and tooth-saving tips.

Professional cleaning: It's easy for debris to collect in your gums next to your teeth, especially in areas that are difficult to brush. Your best protection against bone loss is to have regular deep cleaning by a skilled dental hygienist. Some people need their teeth cleaned once or twice a year. Some, like me, need more. But even though prices for cleanings keep rising, they're much less expensive than losing a tooth! Discuss your cleaning treatment program with your dentist after a thorough exam, and follow through with better oral care.

Reduce sugar: The biggest threat to your gum health is sucrose. It increases the bacteria in your mouth. Sucrose consists of small enough particles for harmful bacteria to eat. The major source of sucrose is refined sugar. Unrefined complex carbohydrates, like whole grain bread and brown rice, contain particles that are too large for these germs to digest.

The waste product these bacteria produce is often acidic enough to dissolve your tooth's enamel, the hardest substance in your body. The more they eat, the more they multiply and the more acid they produce. If you can't completely avoid eating sucrose, rinse your mouth or brush your teeth right after eating any sugar.

Any source of sucrose contributes to feeding bacteria including white, brown, and turbinado sugars, molasses, cane sugar, and "pure cane sugar juice" present in so-called "health foods." Many foods, including some fruits, naturally contain small amounts of sucrose. Grapes are especially high.

Other sugars--fructose, lactose, glucose, maltose, corn syrup, etc.--may be low in sucrose but can also contribute to tooth decay and inflamed gums--although the progress is slower.

A good diet: Any diet can contribute to the formation of plaque, a sticky substance that contains dead cells, live bacteria, and saliva. When plaque hangs around, it keeps harmful bacteria on your teeth and in your gums. Sugar, refined grains like white rice and white flour, and sticky foods, encourage bacterial growth and tooth decay. After eating any of these, finish your meal with something raw and fibrous like a carrot or apple, and rinse or brush your teeth.

Vitamins C and A support healing if you already have gum infections. In addition, a deficiency of B vitamins can worsen gingivitis. You can get these and other supportive nutrients in a good multivitamin/mineral formula like Vitality Plus.

I have always had inflamed gums. Recently, I began taking Resveratrol Plus, a powerful antioxidant, to protect myself from colds and the flu. I kept taking it for several months. When I had my most recent tooth cleaning session, my dental hygienist was astonished. My gums were normal. The only change I had made was to take Resveratrol Plus twice a day. I'd be interested in hearing from any of you who have similar experiences. Like many antioxidants, there aren't enough studies on less popular conditions like gingivitis!

Remember, they're connected!

It's important to remember that there's a direct connection between periodontal disease and osteoporosis. Both affect your bones. Periodontal disease proceeds more rapidly and is more destructive in people who have decreased bone density, and people with a decrease in bone density are more vulnerable to periodontal infection. Because periodontal disease is a serious infection that affects bone and soft tissue, it often contributes to other health problems like heart disease. Gum disease is potentially serious. If you would like to schedule a phone consultation with Dr. Tom McGuire, or order his book, you can call him at 877-363-1428, or go to his website at

Tooth Tip #1

Toothbrushes trap bacteria, re-introducing them into your mouth. Rinse your toothbrush in very hot water after each use and let it dry thoroughly in an upright position before re-using it. Change your toothbrush often, especially if you have gum disease.

Tooth Tip #2

Brushing and flossing aren't always enough, says Dr. McGuire. Use a water irrigator if you have advanced periodontal disease with deeper periodontal pockets.

Signs of Periodontitis

* Teeth and gums sensitive to heat, cold, sugar, or acid foods

* Sudden throbbing pain made worse by tapping tooth

* Constant or frequent gum bleeding

* Deep, dull pain

* Toothache

* Loose teeth

* Bad breath

From Tooth Fitness, Thomas McGuire, DDS
COPYRIGHT 2003 Women's Health Letter
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Publication:Women's Health Letter
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Apr 1, 2003
Previous Article:Letters.
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