By Dr Sparkman Ferguson
Registrar of the Bahamas Dental Council
If you knew that two professional mouth cleanings a year would likely save you from gum disease, would you do it? I would, and hope, that you would.
There are several types of gum diseases, and they have been classified by professional periodontal societies. However, for ease, I will refer to them simply as periodontal disease. They are given this name because these diseases attack and destroy all the tissues that surround and support teeth including the gums.
Periodontal disease is generally a chronic inflammatory disease. The disease is caused by dental plaque, particularly in two if its forms (dental tartar and dental calculus)
Dental plaque is a bacterial film found everywhere in the mouth. It is easily kept under control with daily brushing and flossing. When we fail to practice good daily brushing and flossing, dental plaque hardens a little and becomes dental tartar; then hardens more and becomes dental calculus. These plaque culprits take up residence between the teeth and gums, and begin the gum disease process.
The disease process can be mild (gingivitis) and cause a little bleeding in the gums. It can then progress over time and become a chronic condition making the gums sore, swollen, painful, bleeding, discoloured, and disfigured. At the same time, something more sinister is occurring in the background. The disease attacks the jawbones, which are holding the teeth tightly in place. This attack causes the destruction of jawbone, which ultimately results in the teeth becoming mobile. The sad thing about all this is, that it could all be prevented if the correct steps were taken.
The correct steps are as follows. All adults should have a periodontal evaluation along with the dental prophylaxis (called teeth cleaning) every 6 months. This evaluation may include X-rays, gum probing, and jawbone evaluation. These steps can lead to early disease detection.
As a dentist, “teeth cleaning” is a terminology that my profession has adopted which I dislike. When we refer to the dental prophylaxis (a professional mouth cleansing) as “teeth cleaning”, it lessens what we are needing people to understand about the process. As a direct result of this, some persons never find a need to have a dental prophylaxis because such persons say that they can clean their own teeth.
This home care is needed, but is never to be confused with professional care. In dentistry, “cleaning the teeth” is not our main objective during the dental prophylaxis visit.
Instead, we are seeking to eliminate the dental tartar and dental calculus found between the teeth and gums which brushing cannot remove. Incidental to that important task of the prophylaxis, we clean and polish the white enamel of the teeth. So a more correct simple terminology for prophylaxis would be “gum cleaning’” rather than “teeth cleaning”.
In the final analysis, however, the dental prophylaxis performed by the dental team, assists the patient in preventing periodontitis.
The gums are so important to mouth health that a dental specialty called periodontics exists. A professional who practices this specialty field of dentistry is called a periodontist.
A dental hygienist or a general dentist can treat most simple gum concerns. However, when periodontal diseases become advanced and complicated, the services of a periodontist is usually required.