Gum disease: innocent, sneaky or just plain sinister?
The answer to the gum disease question posed here is actually “all of the above”.
Yes, it’s true, gum disease can be painful and obvious as red and swollen gums. But equally, gum disease can be just plain sneaky, silent and sinister.
As a dentist, sadly there is no shortage of evidence of this fact. There are regular reminders. Just last week I came across a particular case that warrants mention here.
WARNING – This case study is typical avoidance behaviour. When treating patients like this, Dr Mark may adopt extreme measures to help the patient understand the long term impact of their current behaviour on their teeth and oral health.
Gum disease is common if you avoid the dentist
A patient, aged in their mid forties and working as a fly in / fly out contractor, came to me with a complaint about a sore tooth. Sounds like one of those jokes, doesn’t it?
As is often the case, the sore tooth was an easy fix. Treatment was quick, effective, and largely pain-free. The answer to every dental prayer for the person who’s avoided the dentist.
The state of his gums, however? Not so much.
As I checked around his mouth and reviewed his x-rays, it was immediately clear my patient has a much bigger problem than a sore tooth to deal with. In fact, the issue he faces is serious.
The x-rays revealed this patient has hardly any bone around his teeth. “And the significance of this discovery is what, Dr Mark?”, I hear you ask.
Well, here’s how I explained it to him.
“Keep going the way you are and in ten years time, you won’t have any teeth left in your mouth. Quite simply, you’ll wake up one day and they’ll just fall out.”
Usually, I’m not one for scare tactics. However, to get the message through to this patient (remember he’s in the habit of avoiding the dentist), I felt it was necessary to go in hard. My usual approach in such cases is a metaphorical sledgehammer.
You see, with bone density that is significantly less than my 83 year old dad’s, this guy faces some serious health issues long term if he continues his current behaviours (including maintaining poor oral hygiene and regular Hygiene Visits).
And that’s the problem with gum disease. It can come right up and grab you – and you won’t even know it. This is exactly what happened to my patient.
Gum disease is (mostly) not painful
A couple years before his visit to me, he’d seen another dentist. That dentist prescribed him a mouthwash for what the patient had reported as bleeding gums. In his words, the dentist had done a “quick scrape around” and checked his teeth. Nothing more.
The possibility his bleeding gums could have been something more serious was not flagged to the patient as a potential health concern.
If you remember nothing else about gum disease, remember this: it can be very sinister, with many people completely unaware they have it.
Often, there is no pain and nothing appears different to the naked eye.
So how do you know you have gum disease?
Your partner might have noticed your breath has changed.
Perhaps you’ve noticed a tooth is loosening.
Or you’ve noticed bleeding from your gums, maybe when you’re brushing or when eating certain foods.
This leads me to a second vital fact about gum disease you need to lock away as a vital piece of dental trivia.
Gum disease is like a connection spark for transmitting disease to other parts of the body. We now know inflammation starting in the mouth as gum disease has been linked to an increase in plaque found in the heart’s arteries and around the brain.
More than just a few loose teeth (although that would be enough), gum disease can lead to even more serious conditions if it’s not treated in time.
Gum disease is treatable…if you catch it in time
As for my patient, he has some hard decisions to make. Does he still want to have his own teeth in ten years or would he be happy with the teeth falling out scenario?
If he opts to keep his own teeth, and if it’s not too late, gum disease can be treated. Ultimately, this can mean the difference between reducing susceptibility to heart and Alzheimer’s disease or facing an unpleasant (and partially toothless) future.
Rarely is rocket science the solution to problems like these. Completely preventable, gum disease can be avoided by brushing and flossing regularly and getting in for your regular Hygiene Visits. This is especially relevant for men, like my patient, who don’t always value their own health.
Want more information about gum disease? Book in now – 07 5573 0188 for a COHA (Comprehensive Oral Health Assessment) to assess the health of your teeth and gums and your options.