Straight Teeth Talk: Bleeding gums, overall health

I'd like to share some common-sense approaches to both dental and overall health. I believe it is my responsibility to explain the facts in a way people understand, and it is their responsibility to decide what they want to do. Simple, right?

Fingernails, teeth

Healthy gums seal each and every individual tooth, just like the skin seals finger and toenails. When infected, the skin around teeth and nails pulls back, creating an opening for bacteria. This broken seal is very obvious with nails but completely hidden with teeth.

Another problem with gum infections is there is no pain. Since the infection is hidden and painless, it can lead to an advanced stage without notice. It is not like the proverbial sore thumb in fact, it can be - and is called - the silent killer, right up there with high cholesterol and blood pressure.

Once infection starts and the seal is broken, that area becomes a "pocket." Once a pocket is more than 4 mm deep, it gets harder and harder to clean. The larger the number, the larger the pockets are, and the more serious the condition is.

Why gums bleed

Nasty, bad bacteria get embedded in the crevices of healthy gums. If not removed, they grow and multiply and join other bad bacteria. As a team they make an assault on the gums, which begins to break the seal. Then, bleeding begins.

The immune system comes to the rescue to fight the bad bacteria. The bigger the battle, the more the bleeding. As in any disease, the battle between the bugs and the immune system depends on which one is strongest.

But even before there's obvious bleeding, the germs and their waste products start entering our circulation, heading for all sorts of places in our body where we don't want them: the heart, the liver, the brain and the kidneys.

Chronic versus acute

The good old flu is an acute disease; it hits hard, causes pain and goes away after the immune system defeats it. If not defeated, the flu bugs can actually kill the patient. The only cure for the flu is for the bugs to go away, and no, antibiotics are not an answer for this disease.

Gum disease is classified as chronic. It persists over time and starts painlessly. It is chronic because the offending agents, i.e. the bad bugs, have not been removed, and the fight between the bugs and the immune system are 24/7. No, antibiotics are not a cure either.

As with the flu, the only cure for gum disease is to get rid of the bugs and keep them away. This can only be achieved by a dentist or hygienist performing special cleaning procedures and excellent patient home care. Without the right home care, the bugs will simply return and start the process all over again. Clean gums, free of bad bacteria, do not bleed.

So, if we detect bleeding by gently touching the gums or when we brush, we're really worried. What's more, we're now getting some new technology to detect this attack even earlier - before the germs start getting into our system and doing their dirty work. This can have a profound effect on our being able to keep you healthier and have a more vibrant, extended and happy life.

It's a really exciting time to be doing dentistry.

Solutions

If you are current with your dental cleanings, you certainly have a head start. Be sure you have some serious dialogue with your dentist or hygienist as to bleeding points, probing depth, etc. If there is bleeding, ask for specific instructions, special cleaning tools, etc. We have found that the Sonicare electric tooth brush is fabulous, especially when combined with the Waterpik.

If you are not current, it would be best, from a dental and medical perspective, if you found the right dentist for you to call and ask for a comprehensive exam. This complete exam would let you know about your health status not only for gum disease but for decay and bite problems as well.

Yes, I am well aware that nobody wants to go to the dentist. It takes time, money, emotion and all the problems every dentist hears every day. Nevertheless, it only makes sense, doesn't it?

Dr. Mac Lee practices in Edna. He is a international speaker to dentists and is an adviser to Dr. Mehmet Oz. To learn more, visit drmaclee.com or call 361-782-7191.