Gill Stannard

Monday, September 01, 2008

Healthy gums

Want to know the health secret that can save you thousands of dollars? It’s so simple you will kick yourself in years to come if you don’t do it. Ok here it is – the health tip of a life time…


Yes. Invest in some dental floss and use it. Every day. In and out between each tooth. Brush too. Eat good food. But remember to floss.

So what do your teeth, or more accurately your gums, have to do with good health? Naturopaths aren’t dentists. But just like pap smears, prostate checks and checking your blood pressure – visiting your dentist for an annual check up can keep you in good health and nip annoying tooth and gum problems in the bud before they escalate. And gum problems, left untreated, always will.

It begins with a bit of blood when you brush your teeth, it blooms into some embarrassing bad breath and then before you know it there is talk of bone loss, loosing teeth and periodontist bills that will make your wallet shudder.

Why all the fuss about bleeding gums?

If your gums bleed when you brush your teeth or floss it can be the tip of the health disaster iceberg. When food and other debris is caught around the teeth and not cleared away by regular brushing and flossing bacterial plaque builds up. This leads to calculus (tartar) that encourages more bacteria and irritates the gums. This irritation leads to bleeding.

But this is just the beginning. This begins a cascade of gum infections that goes on to cause chronic inflammation of the gingival (gums). This can be also caused, or worsened, by incorrect brushing technique that injures the gums, diabetes, puberty and pregnancy. Having a mouthful of crooked teeth, dentures, bridges and crowns can also encourage gingivitis.

Can anything else cause gum disease?

Pharmaceutical drugs phenytoin and birth control pills, as well as exposure to heavy metals such as lead and bismuth may also cause gingivitis

Chronic periodontitis (more than just bleeding – ongoing inflammation leading to gum and bone loss) is sometimes associated with the herpes virus, cytomegalovirus and even Epstein Barr (glandular fever).

Smoking increases your chance of gum disease but so does smoking marijuana. Studies have found that after excluding the effects of tobacco cannabis doubles your chance of developing chronic gum problems. (See this study and another one on adolescents).

Will gingivitis make women go into labour prematurely?

There is hot debate on this one. Earlier in the decade research convincingly indicated that there was a strong connection between the two, recent research is less conclusive. Though it concluded that there seems to be a casual relationship in some pregnant women with gum disease and giving birth prematurely. However, a study published the year before with greater statistical significance in subject size and using different parameters for prematurity shows a convincing correlation between the two.

Conclusion: Why risk it? If you are planning to get pregnant schedule a dental visit for a good clean up of your teeth and to check that there are no serious periodontal or dental problems.

If your gums bleed are you more likely to have a heart attack?

Maybe. There is a strong connection between various inflammatory markers and atherosclerosis (and lots of other studies) that is connected to cardio-vascular diseases.

Apart from not flossing and brushing after eating, can diet help or hinder gingivitis?

If you go back to basics and understand the role of bacteria and viruses in chronic gum disease it would suggest foods and drinks containing any kind of sugar can worsen the condition, as sugar decreases our white blood cells ability to fight infections.

Low Vitamin C is associated with scurvy, of which bleeding gums are a key symptom. Vitamin C is important in the integrity of fine capillaries, fighting infections and many other things in our body. With the changes to the way we grow, store and sell fresh food – the time between picking a fruit and a vegetable and eating it is lengthened. The longer this time is the less Vitamin C will be in the food.

And just how old are our fruit and vegetables? An article in the Sydney Morning Herald published earlier this year found that the apple bought from Woolworths/Safeway (you know “the fresh food people”) was 10 months old and the apples bought from Coles and a local fruit shop were 9 months old.

A general diet for health including the wellbeing of your gums and teeth should include lots of fresh vegetables (including some eaten raw), grains, legumes and other whole foods. Avoid processed foods as much as possible, especially those with added sugar (which can turn up in seemingly innocuous savory foods like some types of rice crackers).

I found an interesting study looking at young, Japanese women and soy intake in relation to gum disease. In this group of women it was found that the more soy based foods that were regularly consumed, the lower the incidence of gum disease was. The researchers couldn’t adequately explain why this was so. Though I’d note for Western soy consumers that soy milks in Japan is unlikely to contain added sugars. I’d stick to tofu, whole beans, miso and tempeh but be wary of the milks available in countries like Australia.

Aside from Vitamin C can any other supplements help?

Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) is a powerful anti-inflammatory. It’s also used to help prevent heart disease. CoQ10 levels have been shown to be low in gum tissue when gingivitis is present. There is anecdotal evidence that CoQ10 can play a role in reducing gum disease.

A mouthwash containing myrrh, goldenseal, calendula and echinacea may be useful. Between them these herbs have strong anti-bacterial, anti-viral and other healing qualities. Due to lack of funding for herbal research there is no evidence based medicine to support this hypothesis as yet.

There is some preliminary research between cranberries and prevention of gum disease. It may stop the bacteria from sticking to the gums. However, this relates to a daily serve of unsweetened cranberry juice. In Australia almost all cranberry products have been sweetened, even those natural looking dried cranberries. Due to the high acid levels in fruit, unsweetened cranberry juice (which is not very pleasant to drink) may help your gums but mightn’t be so good for your teeth!

Can stress affect your gums?

Other than the obvious connection between tooth grinding and general dental wellbeing and stress, there is a strong link between all kinds of stress and how it affects our immune system. Basically, with ongoing tension and stress we are less able to fight infection, which is part of the gum disease picture.

So chill out, eat some raw, fresh foods and don’t forget to floss. Save yourself money in the long run by having a regular dental check up.

1 comment:

Gill Stannard Naturopath said...

Just a reminder that all advertising in the guise of comments will be moderated and therefor not appear on this site.

So save yourself the time and effort (and mine too) by not attempting to spruik products here. Thanks.