If you’re ever sitting in the dentist’s chair, bracing yourself for an procedure called “scaling,” which cleans out the bacteria in your infected gums, just say to yourself, “This could have been avoided. I did not have to be here.” Some Americans must be getting the message and finally are brushing and flossing more efficiently, because serious gum problems are on the decline. Nevertheless, gum disease continues to cause more tooth loss than cavities, and is second only to the common cold in terms of prevalence (98% of people over age 60 have some degree of gum disease). And now, researchers have linked severe gum disease to an increased risk of both heart disease and strokes
With the measures we suggest at WholeHealth Chicago, in many cases gum disease is not only preventable, but may actually be reversible–and without surgery. In fact, I’m fairly certain that if you apply our recommendations, you’ll see a definite difference in just a couple of weeks.
What is Gum Disease?
The two most common forms of gum disease are gingivitis and periodontitis. Characterized by sore, inflamed gums, gingivitis begins when bacteria in the mouth form a sticky substance called plaque that builds up at the base of the teeth. Bacteria in the plaque produce substances that inflame the gums. When gingivitis goes untreated, it may progress to the more serious and stubborn gum disease periodontitis, also known as pyorrhea. In advanced cases of periodontitis, the gums recede or form loose pockets around the teeth in which bacteria can lodge and erode the bone to which the teeth are anchored.
Gum disease is almost as prevalent as the common cold: As many as three in four adults over the age of 35 will have swollen, tender, or bleeding gums during their lifetime. Women are more susceptible during puberty, pregnancy, menstruation, and menopause. Fortunately, there are lots of ways to prevent gum disease, soothe its pain, repair the damage, and save your teeth.
- Red, swollen, sensitive gums
- Bleeding gums, especially after brushing
- A toothache whose pain gets worse after you eat or drink something hot, cold, or sweet
- Constant bad breath or an unpleasant taste in the mouth
- Lost or loose teeth
What Causes Gum Disease?
Most cases of gum disease are due to one simple cause: Bad oral hygiene such as poor brushing, flossing, or rinsing.
Among the remaining causes are:
a diet high in sugar
a diet low in vitamin C or other nutrients
smoking, because chemicals in smoke damage the teeth and gums
medications that block the production of saliva, which normally helps to wash away bacteria and sugars
pregnancy, menopause, and other times of hormonal upheaval
diabetes and other chronic diseases that weaken the immune system, making infection more likely.
Treatment and Prevention
As a wit once said, “Ignore your teeth and they’ll go away.” Gum disease is almost entirely preventable with good oral hygiene. And keeping your gums healthy may be more worthwhile than you suspect: Researchers found out recently that there may be a link between the type of bacteria that cause dental plaque and the development of heart disease. The theory is that bacteria from the gums enter the bloodstream and travel to the heart, where they start blood clots or harm the heart muscle directly.
Just a reminder: If you have a serious medical condition or are taking medication, it’s always a good idea to check with your doctor before starting a supplement program.
How Supplements Can Help
When gums are sore and bleeding, an array of supplements may help. Results should become visible within about two weeks. If you’re at high risk of gum disease, you may want to take them every day to prevent acute attacks.
Vitamin C and flavonoids are antioxidants that protect the gums from cell damage, hasten healing, and strengthen the immune system to fight off the bacterial infection that causes gum disease. These two ingredients, which work as a team, also strengthen connective tissue and keep inflammation down. Reduce your vitamin C dose if it causes diarrhea.
CoenzymeQ10 is another powerful antioxidant. It’s also been shown in studies to help the gums close up pockets that have formed around the teeth and speed healing after dental surgery. CoenzymeQ10 is more efficiently absorbed when taken with food.
Applied topically, vitamin E may soothe gum inflammation and cut down on bleeding. Every other day, squeeze out the oil from a vitamin E capsule and rub it on tender gums. Apply twice a day, after you brush your teeth in the morning and at night.
Folic acid has an action similar to that of vitamin E. On the days when you’re not applying vitamin E, dab folic acid liquid onto the gums with a cotton swab.
Vitamin C in powder form is a way to bring vitamin C’s benefits directly to the gums. After applying folic acid, brush along the gum line with a very soft toothbrush and vitamin C powder.
Chamomile works well as a mouthwash or gargle for people with gingivitis. To make chamomile tea, put 2 to 3 teaspoons of the herb in a cup of very hot water, steep for 10 minutes, strain and cool. Use daily.
Be sure to floss once a day (or more) and brush the teeth and tongue twice a day (or more) with a soft toothbrush. Plan to brush for about five minutes. Use good technique; if you’re not sure you know what that is, ask your dentist or dental hygienist to demonstrate. Brushing harder is not the solution, because this can actually erode the gums.
Eat more high-fiber fruits and vegetables, which help clean your teeth.
Cut back on sweets and sticky carbohydrates, or brush immediately after eating them. Unfortunately, these foods can easily lodge in gum abscesses and pockets. It’s a particular problem for older people, who are more likely to have exposed tooth roots.
Have a professional cleaning at least once a year by your dentist. Go more frequently if you have gum problems that need particular attention.
Consider drinking fluoridated water, which reduces the risk of tooth loss enormously. Fluoride is a trace mineral that hardens tooth enamel and makes it as much as 70% more resistant to decay.
Look for a natural toothpaste or mouthwash containing the herb bloodroot, which contains a natural antibacterial substance called sanguinarine that helps stop dental plaque before it gets started.
When to Call a Doctor
- Make an appointment with a dentist whenever your gums become red or swollen or your teeth become loose.
- Schedule a professional cleaning if it’s been more than a year since the last one.
From David Edelberg, M.D. at WholeHealth Chicago: The key to having no gum problems throughout your life is, of course, prevention. However, if you’ve got some gum problems now, our goal is to heal your gums–and the supplements in our list can help.
Your dentist also needs to be a part of this project in order to monitor your progress professionally. People with gingivitis or periodontitis should be seeing their dentist every three months, or as needed. When your gums heal, your dentist can then reduce the frequency of check-ups.
If you’re free of gum disease now, but you’re at risk (because of genetic factors or chronic diseases that lower your resistance), take these supplements on a long-term basis for prevention.
How to Take the Supplements
Start with vitamin C, flavonoids, and coenzyme Q10; all are antioxidants that help protect gums from cell-damaging free radicals. These supplements also act to restrict bacteria that attack gum tissue. Be sure to also add the calcium, which contributes to maintaining tooth structure.
The remaining supplements are topical remedies that can reduce inflammation and bleeding. Every other day, apply folic acid liquid to your gums with a cotton swab, then, with a very soft toothbrush, very gently brush vitamin C powder along your upper and lower gum line. Alternate this treatment with a topical application of vitamin E. Break open a capsule and gently rub the oil on any inflamed gum areas to promote healing.
Finally, try gargling with some chamomile tea; it works well for the inflammation of gingivitis. If you don’t feel like bothering to prepare chamomile tea for a mouth rinse, dilute chamomile liquid extract with water and swish it around your mouth.
Floss at least once a day and brush at least twice. Be sure to use a soft brush to avoid injuring the delicate gum tissue. As important as supplements are for this condition, your oral hygiene diligence is what really counts. Important:
We at WholeHealth Chicago strongly recommend that everyone take a high-potency multivitamin/mineral and well-balanced antioxidant complex every day. It may be necessary to adjust the dosages outlined below to account for your own daily vitamin regimen. All of our supplement recommendations also assume you are eating a healthful diet.
Be aware that certain cautions are associated with taking individual supplements, especially if you have other medical conditions and/or you’re taking medications. Key cautions are given in the listing below, but you need to see the WholeHealth Chicago Reference Library for a comprehensive discussion of each supplement’s cautions and drug/nutrient interactions.
For product recommendations and orders click here for the Natural Apothecary or call 773-296-6700 ext. 2001.
David Edelberg, MD