Preventing gum disease

by Dr. Chris Singh

When discussing the health of professional truck drivers, conditions such as diabetes, elevated cholesterol levels, and high blood pressure often come up in the conversation. However, rarely do you hear about oral health and gum disease. As most health care professionals would agree, oral health is very important and can greatly affect the overall health of an individual.

When you brush your teeth in the morning, do your gums tend to bleed? If so, you are probably one of the nine in 10 adults who have some form of gum disease. With their busy schedules and long work hours, it is common for truck drivers to neglect their teeth and gums. As a result, many truck drivers suffer from gum disease or gingivitis. The good news is that this condition is both treatable and preventable.

We all know that our gums surround our teeth and part of our jaw bones, however many of us do not know what their function is. Basically, our gums form a tight seal around the crowns of our teeth and protect them from bacterial infection and decay. So, if our gums are damaged, our teeth are more likely to be damaged. I always tell my patients to think of their gums like the head gasket of their truck engine. They both provide a tight seal.

Gingivitis is simply inflammation of our gums, which is due to the build-up of bacteria between our teeth and gums.

In most cases, gingivitis begins with the formation of plaque. Plaque is formed when different substances such as sugars and starches come in contact with the bacteria that is normally found in our mouths.

If plaque remains on our teeth for several days, it can harden and form tartar, which acts as a reservoir for harmful bacteria. Unfortunately, we usually cannot get rid of tartar by brushing or flossing and must seek help from a dental professional. With time, this plaque will irritate the gums, causing them to become swollen and bleed easily. In addition to plaque formation, certain drugs and medical conditions may also lead to the development of gingivitis.

By far, the most common cause of gingivitis is poor oral hygiene. However, there are other factors that can increase your risk, including tobacco use. All forms of tobacco, including cigarettes, cigars, and chewing tobacco, increase bacterial growth in your mouth as well as weaken your immune system. Another risk factor is diabetes, which elevates your blood sugar levels and can damage many parts of your body, including your gums. As you can see, many drivers are at a higher risk as they have many risk factors.

As with all medical conditions, the sooner you seek help, the better your chances are of curing and preventing more serious conditions. If your gums are puffy, dark red, and bleed easily, it is important to seek professional help as soon as possible. Untreated gingivitis can lead to more serious forms of gum disease, which can cause tooth loss. Also, recent studies have linked chronic gingivitis with heart attacks and stroke.

The treatment of gingivitis is fairly simple in most cases. The first step is to have a dentist or dental hygienist thoroughly clean your teeth, removing all traces of plaque and tartar. Generally, the symptoms of gingivitis will clear up shortly after a professional cleaning as long as you continue to practice proper oral hygiene.

Within a few weeks, your gums will look pink, healthy and feel great.

As I always say, prevention is the best treatment. There are a few basic things that you can do on the road to prevent gingivitis from occurring. First of all, brush your teeth at least twice a day. Also, choose a toothbrush that is soft and has a rounded head. If a toothbrush is too hard it will likely injure your mouth and gums.

Toothbrushes should be replaced every three to four months.

In addition to brushing regularly, it is important to floss, as it is the most effective way to remove food and plaque from between your teeth that your brush cannot reach. Finally, see your dentist or dental hygienist regularly for check-ups and cleanings. If you follow these simple steps, you will greatly reduce your chances of developing gingivitis or other form of gum disease and your teeth and gums will thank you for it.

Until next month, drive safely!

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