MANY adults have some form of gum disease — ranging from simple gum inflammation called gingivitis, to serious damage to the tissue and bone supporting the teeth. This can lead to tooth loss.
Our mouths are full of bacteria. These bacteria, along with mucus and other particles, form a sticky, colourless plaque on teeth. Plaque that is not removed can harden and form bacteria-harbouring tartar that brushing does not clean.
The bacteria can cause inflammation of the gums — gingivitis — a condition in which the gums become red, swollen and bleed easily.
Untreated gingivitis can lead to the development of periodontitis — inflammation around the tooth. When that protective area around the tooth is breached, the ensuing bacterial infection triggers a number of problems. Over time, the gums recede, a pocket forms around the tooth, and bacteria infiltrates the bone. Women can be affected by gum disease at various stages of their lives. These include:
1. Menstruation. Gingivitis may flare up in some women a few days before menstruation, when levels of the hormone progesterone are high. This usually clears up shortly after the period has started. Gum inflammation may also occur during ovulation.
2. Pregnancy. Hormonal changes during pregnancy can aggravate existing gingivitis, which typically worsens between the second to eighth months of pregnancy. Periodontal disease can increase the risk of delivery of preterm low birth weight babies. It is, therefore, very important for pregnant women to visit a dentist.
3. Menopause. As they age, women may experience a number of changes in their mouths. These may occur as a result of advanced age, medication, or menopause. These changes can include abnormal tastes and sensations (salty, spicy, acidic, burning) in the mouth, increased sensitivity to hot and cold foods and drinks and decreased salivary flow.
The decreased salivary flow can in turn lead to dry mouth and the development of tooth decay and gum disease.
Research conducted in Australia has suggested a link between gum disease and infertility. This study found that women with gum disease took an average of just over seven months to become pregnant. This is in comparison to the average time of five months that it took for conception to occur in women without gum disease. Periodontal disease has been associated with type 2 diabetes, heart, respiratory and kidney disease.
The best way to treat periodontal disease is by removing the plaque that coats the teeth and by keeping the teeth and gums clean. This can be done by brushing after every meal and daily flossing. A balanced diet is extremely important. In addition, supplementation with antioxidants like vitamins A, C and E, glucosamine and coenzyme Q 10 is important because they boost the immune system.
Dr Jacqueline E Campbell is a family physician and author of A Patient’s Guide to the Treatment of Diabetes Mellitus.