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What d’ya mean, I got Gum Disease?

Ever notice a bit of blood on your toothbrush?  The last time you flossed (probably when Moses was a boy) did your gums bleed so you decided you were doing it wrong?  Do you ever go three days without flossing?  If the answer is yes to any, or all, of the above, then you have … (insert menacing music) …  gum disease.

Now, if you're like most people you're probably in denial.  You think everyone's gums bleed and it's no big deal.  And for some people it never will be a big deal.  The problem is, by the time you notice there's anything wrong it's too late to fix it easily. Imagine if any other part of your body bled every time you touched it.  Obviously, something's wrong.

So what is Gum Disease?
I'm glad you asked.  That film that accumulates on your teeth if you don't brush for a while is called plaque.  It contains the bugs (bacteria) that cause tooth decay and gum disease.  If the bugs get left close to the gum for 2-3 days then the toxins that they produce seep into the gums and cause infection.  That's when they start to bleed.  You’ve now got Gingivitis.  But it gets worse.

Say the plaque gets left there for an extended period of time.  After a while it gets hard and forms ledges (calculus or tartar).  Now more plaque will accumulate and as hard as you try, you'll never get rid of it all.
Now the infection is really starting to take hold.
But it gets worse.

Your teeth penetrate all the way through the skin down to the bone.  Nowhere else in the body does this happen.  Your gums are the "gasket" that keeps the bugs out of the bone. In some people (about 25%) the infection will move through the gums into the bone surrounding the teeth.  You’ve now got Periodontal Disease.  When this happens the bone around the tooth is slowly dissolved by the infection until there is little bone holding the tooth in.  (This can take 20 years.)  The tooth gets loose, and has to be pulled out.  Sounds great doesn't it?

So, I've got Gum Disease.  It's not like it can kill me.
We used to think that. However research published in the last year has revealed a positive link between gum disease and artery disease. That means if you have gum disease you are at greater risk of having a heart attack or stroke.

OK, you've scared me. What can I do?
A few simple steps will, in most cases, stop things getting worse:

1. The hard deposits (calculus) need to be removed from your teeth.  This has to be done by your hygienist, dentist or gum specialist (periodontist). You can't eliminate the infection until all of these deposits are removed.  It may only take one visit to do or it may take 4 visits or longer, depending on how bad (or how deep) it is to start with.

2. You need to brush your teeth really well (we're talking 3-4 minutes) at least once a day.   When you do this be sure to push the bristles (of a SOFT toothbrush) into the gums to try to make them bleed.  The areas you HAVE NOT been brushing properly in the past will bleed.  Don't worry about this.  After a 5-6 days these areas will stop bleeding which will tell you they are now healthier.

3. Before you brush at night, you have to clean between your teeth using dental floss.  This will also cause bleeding for the first week.

4. Keep getting them cleaned.  Unfortunately there are a few areas that are almost impossible for you to get to.  Every six months is generally often enough.  If you have active gum disease, every three months may be recommended until things are under control.  The bugs that cause gum disease don't like oxygen (they're anaerobic for the technically minded).  This means that you can kill them just by stirring them up every day.  The whole idea behind flossing and brushing is to keep the colonies of bacteria from establishing themselves.  Good Luck



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