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Teeth, Gums, Dentistry, Health

Gum Disease, weak gums

Prevent Your Teeth From Falling Out

By Dr. W. Gifford Jones

What an appalling situation! We send rockets to Mars. We transplant hearts and kidneys. Yet we can't stop North Americans from losing their teeth. By age 60 one in three have lost, not some, but all of their teeth. Why does this happen when the solution is so, so simple? It's because of several misconceptions about dental care. And laziness.

George Herbert wrote in 1640, "For want of a nail, the horse's shoe was lost. For want of a shoe, the horse was lost. For want of horse, the rider was lost. For want of a rider, the battle was lost. And for want of a battle, the kingdom was lost."

Due to a series of similar errors teeth are also lost. The greatest error people make is concentrating on the teeth, forgetting about the gums and the "no-man's land" between teeth.

Today, gum disease, known as gingivitis, is responsible for 70 percent of adult tooth loss. Inferior cement won't support a building and weak gums can't hold onto teeth. It's as simple as that.

A National Health Survey showed that only seven percent of people believe they have gingivitis. But, in effect, gum disease affects 66 percent of the population! Moreover, the dental association estimates that nine out of ten people will develop some form of gum disease during their lifetime.

There's a vast difference between healthy and diseased gums. Healthy gum tissue is coral pink, firm and adheres closely to the neck of the tooth. In contrast, unhealthy gingival tissue is inflamed, swollen, dark red, infected and receding from the teeth.

Gingivitis is the mildest form of gum disease. It starts with the accumulation of plaque, a form of dental rust. It's a colourless, sticky film that accumulates between the gum tissue and teeth and eventually becomes hard. Initially this is a silent disease. But as gingivitis increases the gums bleed easily during brushing. And there may be a metallic taste in the mouth.

Periodontal disease is a more advanced stage of gum disease. A progressive bacterial infection of the gums destroys the fibers that attach teeth to the underlying bone. This leads to loosening and eventual loss of teeth.

Recent research reveals that diseased gums may even be linked to coronary heart disease. And that gingivitis may be a threat to people suffering from diabetes and respiratory diseases.

Miguel de Cervantes, the Spanish novelist, who wrote Don Quixote 400 years ago, realized the misfortune of losing teeth. He wrote, "For what I would have you know, Sancho, that a mouth without molars is like a mill without a stone, and a tooth is more precious than a diamond."

Today it's easy to keep teeth for a lifetime. But it will never happen unless people realize brushing is not the entire solution.

Professor Givanni of Padua, Italy, pointed this out in the 15th century. He wrote,"If all particles of food were removed from between the teeth after each meal and the mouth cleansed night and morning care could be effective."

You could brush your teeth 100 times a day and never remove all the food particles from between teeth. These tiny fragments set the stage for both tooth decay and infected gums.

The obvious solution is to use dental floss after each meal. Or the use of stimudents. Or even better the use of both stimudents and dental floss.

Dental associations also recommend the use of an antiseptic mouth wash, such as Listerine, which helps to kill germs. Particularly bacteria in those hard to reach places between teeth and just below the gum line.

Listerine interrupts chemical reactions that form plaque as well as inhibiting bacterial growth. It also slows down the action of fatty carbohydrates that produce sugar, contributing to tooth decay.

My wife lists another benefit. It even acts as a room™freshener after I've used it.

The problem is that only 42 percent of people floss their teeth. Moreover, only 10 percent use a mouth wash to prevent gingivitis. And just seven percent visit a dentist at regular intervals.

Be a smart consumer and never get lazy about dental care. After all, who wants to become a toothless wonder! Being toothless doesn't kill you, but it sure makes life less enjoyable. Henry Ford once offered one million dollars to anyone who could give him a good set of dentures. He never paid the money.

George Washington also had a problem. He couldn't smile. Otherwise his wooden dentures fell out.

The best insurance policy to keep your teeth a lifetime is to use the combination package. Brush your teeth after each meal, use dental flossing regularly and Listerine mouth wash. This will ensure that your teeth don't fall out long before they wear out.

W. Gifford-Jones M.D is the pen name of Dr. Ken Walker graduate of The Harvard Medical School. He’s been a ship’s surgeon, hotel physician and family doctor and later trained in surgery at McGill in Montreal, University of Rochester N.Y. and Harvard. His medical column is published by 60 Canadian newspapers and several in the U.S. He is the author of seven books. Dr. Walker has a medical practice in Toronto. . He can be reached at

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W. Gifford-Jones M.D is the pen name of Dr. Ken Walker graduate of Harvard. Dr. Walker's website is:
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