What causes chronic periodontal disease and chronic gum disease?
Chronic periodontal disease, chronic gum disease and periodontitis are three names for the same disease. Dentists are taught that gum disease is an infection caused by germs. One of the more prestigious dental schools in the United States, Columbia University College of Dental Medicine supports this traditional view of gum disease, stating that “Periodontitis is caused by a bacterial infection.”
Until this fairly recent scientific discovery of the connection of germs with gum disease, there were many different ideas among dental researchers about the possible cause or causes of gum disease. Hard dental plaque or tarter was the primary culprit for many years. For the most part, dental schools simply ignored the question of how tarter actually caused gum disease, and instead, focused on training dental students how to treat gum disease, mostly by scraping the tarter off teeth to make them clean, and cutting off diseased gum tissue.
With the scientific discovery of the role germs play in gum disease, antibiotics are now used by traditional dentists to kill the germs, in addition to classic cleaning and surgery. It should not come as a surprise that these traditional treatment techniques generally fail to help people with gum disease. Not a lot of change has really happened. People still get chronic gum disease because prevention is largely ignored.
How does chronic gum disease or chronic periodontal disease start?
First let’s describe gum disease from a traditional viewpoint. In a healthy mouth, our gums are firmly attached to our teeth by what is called the periodontal, meaning around the tooth, ligament. The attachment is strong and tight enough to prevent any germs or their toxins from getting through, and any body fluids from getting out. We can usually recognize when we have a healthy gum attachment because our gums will be pink, firm, and never bleed or hurt with routine brushing, flossing, or chewing food.
We all have germs in our bodies and on every skin surface, including our mouths and our entire digestive tract. Some of the kinds of germs that grow on our teeth have the ability, under the right conditions, to produce enzymes which dissolve the skin lining our gums along side our teeth, exposing small blood vessels in the process. This sets up an unhealthy environment which allows these germs to penetrate into our gums and the blood vessels in our gums.
These germs also produce toxins, which are actually their waste products. Our bodies react to the toxic waste products by causing inflammation to occur. Inflammation is intended to wall off the infection and destroy the germs by producing enzymes to kill the germs. But these enzymes can also be damaging to us by making the inflammation worse. This is easily recognized by bleeding from our gums, especially when we eat or brush our teeth. Bleeding gums with no associated pain is usually the first sign of gum disease. The name for this condition is gingivitis.
When does gum disease become chronic gum disease or chronic periodontal disease?
The gums can eventually separate from one or more of our teeth because the germs continue to produce enzymes that destroy the attachment of our gums to our teeth. The inflammatory enzymes our bodies make contribute to this process. This makes the normally small healthy space, called a sulcus, between our teeth and gums deeper. This space has now become an infected gum pocket usually filled with plaque, a kind of sticky substance made by the germs to insure their survival. The germs create and surround themselves by plaque, especially between the teeth where they are least likely to be disturbed.
The plaque helps the germs to defend themselves from outside interferences, such as brushing or flossing that might dislodge them or prevent them from living and growing in this favorable environment. Some of the plaque can become hard because calcium gets into it, forming tarter or calculus deposits on the root surfaces of our teeth. This creates more surface area for the plaque and germs. By now, we are likely to have easily recognized symptoms of bad breath, as well as bleeding when we brush or chew food. At this stage of gum disease or periodontal disease, our gums still rarely hurt.
The problem is that the germs can spread deeper by penetrating into the bone around our teeth. It can take a long time for this to occur. When this happens, we call the gum infection, chronic gum disease or chronic periodontal disease.
Chronic gum disease or chronic periodontal disease usually occurs in episodes of activity. The strength of our immune system is constantly changing, depending on many factors, such as our diet at any particular time, our emotional stress level, our exposure to outside toxins, and germs, and our level of exercise. The result is that there will be bursts of active gum infection that will further destroy the bone underneath the gums and the connection of our gums to our teeth. For periods of time in between, the infection remains relatively stable. This cycle of active infection followed by relatively quiet periods can happen for a long time, making it difficult to predict the prognosis of the gum infection.
Gum disease or periodontal disease can occur for years, which is why we characterize it as a chronic infection. By the time this has happened, there are usually significant deposits of tarter or calculus on our teeth and the infected gum pockets may have become very deep. Wherever there are chronically infected gum pockets, some of the bone around the teeth is usually destroyed by the infection, and there may be some visible gum recession. At its worst, we can end up with the symptoms of a painful gum abscess, which destroys most of the jaw bone around a tooth, loosening it, and we ultimately lose the tooth. Not a desired outcome for most people.
How does chronic gum disease or chronic periodontal disease really happen?
Now let’s look at gum disease from a holistic viewpoint. As already described above, gum disease appears to be caused by germs. Are the germs really the problem, or are we the problem? Some germs are good – for example, we need lots of special bacteria called probiotics in our gut to remain healthy. Some germs are bad because, under the right circumstances, they can make us sick.
But bad germs aren’t really bad. Bad germs, including viruses and yeasts organisms, can only infect and hurt us if we let them do this. For this to happen, they need an already weakened immune system, and an acidic bodily environment which favors the growth of germs associated with infections.
This includes the mouth of course. When our immune system isn’t strong enough to prevent these bad germs from growing around our teeth, they will establish themselves on our teeth and infect the gums. Then, and only then, can all the unpleasant consequences of gum disease described above occur. We let this happen when we make poor food choices by not eating the foods or diet needed for healthy gums, or we exercise infrequently, or we carelessly and needlessly expose ourselves to toxic stresses.
If gum disease concerns you, and you are not eating a diet that supports healthy gums, now is the time to supplement your diet with specialized organic, whole food and all natural supplements that support your body’s ability to fight gum disease.
So what else can you do about chronic gum disease or chronic periodontal disease?
If you are one of those people who see their dentist or dental hygienist regularly, you may have already been told that you have bleeding gums or gingivitis If you haven’t been to a dentist in a long time, and you do finally go, you may be surprised to hear that you have gum pockets, or chronic periodontal disease. In either case, it is very important that you follow the advice of your dentist or hygienist, because only these professionally trained people can thoroughly inspect your teeth and gums, and only a dentist can recommend appropriate treatment for your gums.
If the dentist is holistic, you are more likely to receive treatment that focuses on eliminating the germs associated with gum infection without using antibiotics (instead, natural substances that kill germs, such as ozone gas, or the essential oils in Under the Gums Irrigant from the Dental Herb Company may be used). To find a holistic or biological dentist, go to the International Academy of Oral Medicine and Toxicology (IAOMT) and click on the “Find a Dentist” link on the home page.
Brushing and flossing regularly is helpful because it reduces the number of germs on the teeth and under the gums. The primary benefit of brushing and flossing is to remove germ filled plaque, thus making your breath smell better. Reducing plaque also helps your fillings last longer.
You may also need medical care. There is strong scientific evidence that people who are diabetic have a greater likelihood of getting gum disease. Also, people with silver fillings, which contain large amounts of toxic mercury, may be at risk because mercury is known to cause bleeding gums, one of the signs of periodontal disease.
To sum it up, the best way to avoid gum disease or to help heal your gums if you already have chronic periodontal (gum) disease is to:
- Follow a healthy life style by consuming the right kinds of foods and drinks, including fruits and vegetables and other foods that are organic, whole grain, unprocessed or raw, and contain no added sugars, chemicals or synthetic ingredients of any kind.
- Exercise regularly.
- Avoid as many environmental toxins as possible.
- Last, but not least – add organic, all natural, and whole food supplements to your diet.
By doing all these actions, you will create an internal, slightly alkaline, health promoting environment in your body and make your immune system very strong.
Isn’t that really hard for most people to do?