Universal Programs To Prevent Gum Disease Are Well Worth The Effort

From my observations, many people tend to be passive participants, leaving their oral health in the hands of their dental practitioners. Most people go to their dental clinic expecting that the dentist alone can prevent the onslaught of gum disease, abdicating their home care diligence in favour of bi-annual dental checkups. One dentist I know likes to use this phrase to coax patients into improving their oral hygiene practice at home: “Only brush & floss the teeth you want to keep!” While this phrase is always guaranteed to get a smile out of the patients, unfortunately, it makes light of a very serious issue. Tooth loss, after all, is not the most significant potential outcome of gum disease. In fact, gum disease has long been linked and associated with serious conditions like heart disease, stroke, cancer, arthritis, diabetes, pre-term births and others.

Given the list of unpleasant symptoms of gum disease that are both socially undesirable and physically painful:
1) Red, swollen, and puffy gums
2) Horribly bad breath
3) Bleeding gum tissue
4) Tooth and bone loss

…it is truly a wonder to me, that in this day and age, gum disease is still the most common human disease in the world, affecting ~75% of the adult population even in North America.

Whether dealing with gingivitis or severe chronic periodontal disease, the progression is very much up to the patient and not the dental practitioner. Despite a great deal of advertising efforts put forth by the toothbrush and toothpaste folks, it still amazes me how very little public awareness there is about gum disease and its implication on overall health. It amazes me even more how little the public at large seems to be doing to treat gum disease.  In a government funded study by the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), a shocking statistic was revealed: ~70% of people diagnosed with gum disease do not seek treatment, largely due to pain and cost considerations. With only about half the population regularly visiting the dentist, this suggests that the majority of the overall population in the US is doing little, if anything, to stem the progression of their gum disease.

With gum disease being linked to serious conditions such as heart disease, stroke, diabetes, cancer, and preterm births, this NHANES statistic must be seen as unacceptable. This statistic speaks to the lack of concern by patients and dental practitioners alike, and therefore results in insufficient efforts for education, prevention and treatment with ill consequences to our society. Clearly, much more needs to be done to promote both patient awareness and home oral hygiene compliance to prevent gum disease.

Prevention efforts should be made to be a priority even amongst the general medical practitioners, as there is no need for this disease to be so pervasive in our society. Good home care and daily oral hygiene practices need to be rigorously promoted at all levels of education and in all medical clinics, and not just at dental offices. Early intervention to stave off gum disease progression should be seen as an imperative as gum disease, in its early stages (gingivitis), can often be reversed.

Relying on the dental practitioner alone to reinforce good oral health care is not enough as there are too many people in North America who do not receive regular dental services and therefore are missing out on proper instruction. General medical clinics and practitioners (the family doctor) need to be much more assertive in making sure that their patients are practicing good oral hygiene at home, and when they are not, stressing the importance of regular dental checkups to optimize long term overall health.

Daily oral hygiene measures to prevent periodontal disease include the following:

1) Brush your  teeth 2-3 times daily with proper technique, toothbrush, and toothpaste (watch video here)
2) Floss daily and use interdental brushes to clean big gaps between teeth and the last molars
3) Use mouthwashes to help reduce bacterial loads
4) Avoid smoking as this can damage the body’s ability to produce saliva and can affect the body’s natural defense mechanisms against oral biofilm

No amount of clinician intervention can overcome the lack of patient compliance with good home care practices. Ultimately, it is up to the patient to control his or her own oral health. The first step, as always, is to ensure that the patient understands both the need for good oral hygiene home care practice and the nasty consequences that occur when these are disregarded. It is my observation, however, that patients at large are not very aware of gum disease and the negative implications it may have on their overall health. A great deal of effort is needed for education and awareness generation, and that the universal programs to prevent gum disease are well worth the effort.

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5 Responses to “Universal Programs To Prevent Gum Disease Are Well Worth The Effort”

  1. Periodontal disease can hit at such a young age, be sure to make the time for yourself and get into your dentists chair.

  2. Dr Pauley says:

    Excellent article on periodontal disease. This is one of the best overviews that I have seen and it is short enough to read quickly and know a wide spectrum of knowledge about the importance of taking care of perio problems. I have written a couple of blog articles about relationship to other diseases and will link to this article this next time I write about perio problems on our blog. Just started following you back on Twitter under the handle Bellevuedentist. Nicely done.

    • Hi Dr. Pauley, thank you for your kind words. Oral health is important to overall health and we find that patients enjoy learning about the oral systemic link. Be sure to tweet us a link to your next perio blog.

      Great to hear that you and your mom were the first mother-daughter dental team in Washington, way to go!


  3. Valerie says:

    I think I already have it But my dentist really do,t care I can,t get My two false teeth in my gums are so sore and there so tight when I get them in ,

  4. Great tips, can’t believe it’s the number 1 disease in the world!

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