Gum Disease: Don't Get Long in the Tooth

According to the World Health Authority gum disease is now one of the most prevalent of all human ailments. Most people from childhood onwards have learnt to brush their teeth, but very few pay adequate attention to the health of their gums. Yet in reality far more sickness stems from diseased gums than from decaying teeth.

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In a state of health our teeth are surrounded by a tight fringe of tissue, very similar to the cuticle which seals the end of the finger nails. This protects the tooth socket from the entry of food particles, bacteria and dirt. If the gums are allowed to become diseased, these fringes change from being firm and tight to becoming swollen, soft and tender. This weakens the seal around the teeth and permits the development of small pockets where food debris can lodge and germs multiply. This secondary infection can lead to a condition known as pyorrhoea, which literally means a ‘flow of pus’. If left untreated, gum disease leads to a permanent loss of gum tissue and a gradually loosening of the teeth. In adults, far more teeth are lost from gum disease than from dental decay. Pyorrhoea is also a major cause of halitosis, the unpleasant smell which is only partially masked by using mouth fresheners. Moreover, when the bacteria and toxins are swallowed, they can be absorbed into the blood stream and then transported around the body. The rot may start in the mouth, but doesn’t necessarily end there. With the passage of time we become ‘long in the tooth’, not because our teeth grow, but because periodontal disease makes our gums recede. (That’s why dealers judge the age of a horse by examining the state of its teeth and gums.)

Anthony van Leeuwenhoek, the pioneering Dutch biologist, was the first man to use a microscope to demonstrate the existence of bacteria. He took a sample of fluid from his mouth and was staggered to discover the vast number of organisms it contained. ‘All the people living in our United Netherlands are not as many as the animals I carry in my own mouth,’ he reported. To protect his gums he took to rubbing them with a cloth. This is a precaution well worth adopting. Gum disease is rampant, but wholly preventable. One simple way of keeping it at bay is to give the gums a thorough daily massage. This should be done on both sides of the teeth, with a face flannel or small piece of terry towelling set aside for this specific purpose. This frictional massage should become an integral part of our daily routine of oral hygiene.

Key words: Gum disease, Pyorrhoea, Halitosis.

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