So you’re brushing your teeth when you notice a little pink on your toothbrush, but it didn’t hurt. Big deal - or not? If it’s one spot and you just removed a popcorn kernel, your mouth should heal within minutes. Anything else is cause for concern.
Skin doesn’t bleed on its own. It’s the largest organ in your body and first line of defense protecting you. You’d probably be worried if your fingers started to bleed on their own when you washed your hands. So yes, you should worry when the skin inside your mouth no longer protects you either.
Bleeding gums (also called “gingivitis”) are a sign of chronic inflammatory disease. Normal breathing brings the resultant bacteria into your lungs. Swallowing will carry the germs to your digestive system. The bacteria that remain in your mouth go directly into the capillaries between your teeth. Either way, gingivitis is a pathway for bacteria to enter your bloodstream, and that, my friend, IS a big deal.
White blood cells race to fight off bacteria, and in the process, leave a nick in the sidewalls of a blood vessel. Cholesterol comes in as the glue to make a repair (isn’t your body incredible?) Day after day, more white blood cells are needed for more repairs, and eventually create what we know as arterial plaques. That is how blood clots form. Your arteries lose their elasticity, thicken and narrow. If a blood clot breaks free, it can travel anywhere (think of your heart, lungs or brain).
In 2005, the American Heart Association stated what was once thought of as simple gum disease has been shown to be a risk factor in potential heart attacks and stroke. To stop the process, you need dental intervention.
The first step is a thorough dental exam and evaluation. Six measurements will be taken around the neck of each and every tooth in the pocketed space where it meets the gum line. Listen to the numbers as they are called out.
If you hear a “3” or less and you have mild bleeding gums, you’ll likely be classified as having gingivitis, which is usually easy to reverse. Your hygienist will clean and polish your teeth, and you’ll learn some simple steps for home care. Yes, brushing and flossing. If you have trouble remembering to floss daily, try this: put the floss next to your TV remote control or your home computer, whichever you use more. Floss during the first commercial break you see every day, and you’ll have a nice, new, healthy habit before you know it.
Now, what if your numbers were larger? A “4” or greater is cause for concern and a sign of destructive periodontitis. The larger the numbers and the more teeth that are involved indicate the relative extent of the problem.
Sometimes fresh dental x-rays are taken to see the extent of underlying bone loss. Don’t be alarmed about having this done. According to the American College of Radiology, four modern digital dental x-rays produce about the same amount of radiation you get just by living on our planet for a day.
Next, you’ll want to determine the cause of your periodontitis. A holistic or progressive dentist will take a small sample of plaque from the area around a tooth and examine this under a microscope. Is the culprit bacteria, fungus, viral or what? A generation ago, this step was almost nonexistent as patients went straight to gum surgery and antibiotics. Not anymore.
Dentistry is advancing as fast as medicine. A physician takes a tissue or blood sample and treats according to the results. Many modern dentists do the same. You may not need surgery after all, but periodontal disease does not go away on its own. There are various methods from lasers to ultrasonics, and your dentist will discuss your situation and come up with an individualized treatment plan. If you have certain medical conditions, your physician or health-care provider may be contacted. It’s all to provide the best care for you.
In the end, periodontal disease is much like diabetes and high blood pressure. No pain, and often no symptoms, yet it is destructive when left untreated. Your diet should be discussed, and nutritional supplements may be recommended. You’ll need more frequent dental visits and diligent home care to keep it under control. It’s all about you and your health. Don’t skip any of these important steps!
Early Warning Signs of Gum Disease
- Gums that bleed when brushing, flossing or eating
- Red, swollen or spongy gums, may or may not be tender
- Increased space between adult teeth, or a change in the way your teeth bite together
- Receding gums (may expose sensitive root surfaces)
- Persistent bad breath or pus between teeth and gums