Interviewer: Gum disease. The other dental disease you should be concerned about especially if you're an adult. We'll talk about that next, on The Scope.
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Interviewer: Dr. David Okano is a periodontist with 30 years of experience and currently an assistant professor at the University of Utah School of Dentistry. And it seems like when you talk about teeth the big star is cavities. You've got be careful and watch out and do all the prevention for cavities. But gum disease can be devastating, especially if you're an adult.
Dr. Okano: Gum disease is another dental disease that is really of concern. In fact, is considered to be the seventh most common disease in the world, even bypassing diabetes. Gum disease is a problem in which the bone support, the roots of your teeth become affected. And you lose bone support. Ultimately that could lead to loose teeth. And eventually tooth loss.
Interviewer: And how prevalent is it?
Dr. Okano: Well a recent study from the NIH indicated that nearly 50% of adults will have some amount of bone loss. So anywhere from 70 to 90% of adults would likely have a form of gum disease.
Interviewer: So it's you and me in this room right now. That means that likely.
Dr. Okano: Yes.
Interviewer: Do you have gum disease?
Dr. Okano: Yes, I do.
Interviewer: Okay. Maybe I'm lucky then.
Dr. Okano: Okay.
Interviewer: Maybe I'm the one that doesn't.
Dr. Okano: One of the problems of gum disease is there aren't a lot of symptoms that would give you a clue that anything is developing. My problem with gum disease is receding gums. That's a classic symptom of gum disease. And it's not just brushing your gums too hard with your toothbrush. It could be a symptom of an underlying bone loss problem that could lead to major concerns in your adult life.
Interviewer: So when you talk about gum disease. I hear gum disease and then I hear bone loss which kind of confuses me a little bit. Does that confuse most people?
Dr. Okano: Sure. Gum disease is somewhat of a generic term to indicate that your gums are affected and the support of your teeth is. Bone loss is the real problem because there are different forms of gum disease. Some can be as simple as receding gums from possibly brushing your gums too hard to significant infections that are destroying the bone support and causing you to lose teeth. More cases of tooth loss after the age of 35 are due to loss of bone with gum disease than due to tooth decay.
Interviewer: So I can understand how my gums can be receding and lead to the bone loss. What are some other ways that that bone loss can occur and is there anything that I do about it?
Dr. Okano: Sure. The most important thing you can do to prevent or minimize considerations of gum disease is to practice good oral hygiene. That means brushing your teeth at least twice a day and flossing on a daily basis. In terms of treating and preventing gum disease, flossing is probably more important than tooth brushing.
Interviewer: And how often should I be flossing? I'm sure that's a question you get a lot.
Dr. Okano: That's a great question. And you're not alone. You should floss on a daily basis.
Interviewer: All right.
Dr. Okano: What are the realities? Less than a quarter of the population flosses on a daily basis.
Interviewer: Yeah. And what is that doing to prevent the bone loss?
Dr. Okano: What brushing and flossing will do is the oral hygiene techniques will remove the bacterial plaque. Basically, gum disease is an infection your gums that responds to the germs in your mouth. We all can associate sugar intake to tooth decay. But sugar may not have anything to do with gum disease. It all has to do with germs in your mouth that will collect below the gum line and create an inflammatory response that will eventually erodes away the bone.
Interviewer: You have me terrified. I mean other than brushing and flossing is there anything I should be doing?
Dr. Okano: It would be real important to see your dental office. See them for regular preventive cleanings. Have them evaluate. There is a very specific periodontal examination to check for gum disease to see if you in fact have it. And what can be done about it.
Interviewer: Is that something my regular dentist could do? Or do I need to see a periodontist?
Dr. Okano: Well, your general dentist can most certainly help with the initial diagnosis, perhaps even the initial treatment. Your dental hygienist is a key person to help you with the recognition of gum disease and the treatment.
Interviewer: And they would inform me if I did indeed have indications of that?
Dr. Okano: They would. Be certain to ask them if you do in fact have some gum disease because it really is a silent disease in the early stages of development.
Interviewer: Is there anything that we left out? Anything you feel compelled to say?
Dr. Okano: Well it's such a rampant problem that it wouldn't be unusual for an average adult to have some form of gum disease. One of the cardinal signs would be bleeding gums. Many people think that "I just brush my gums too hard and they bled." No. That could in fact be a symptom of a developing gum disease problem.
Interviewer: Is that the main symptom?
Dr. Okano: That would be one of the very early symptoms and easily recognizable. So if your gums bleed, have it checked out with your dental professional.
Interviewer: And it is something that can be fixed?
Dr. Okano: It can be treated. And what we're trying to do with periodontal disease is to try to control it. It is a chronic inflammatory disease. It's treated much like diabetes. In terms of we control it. We don't cure diabetes, we don't cure blood pressure, arthritis. But we can control those long chronic inflammatory diseases quite well. So it can be controlled. And if it can be controlled with enough bone levels remaining, you should be able to have a healthy set of teeth for the rest of your life.
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