I grew up seeing some of my older relatives remove their ‘teeth’ before going to bed. Sometimes, they expressed discomfort with chewing or dentures that were either too tight or too loose. I decided early on in my life that I was not going to go down that same road.

As the saying goes, “ignore your teeth and they will go away.” I wanted to keep my teeth because my smile was just too important to me!

So, I go to the dentist regularly for check-ups and cleanings, floss daily and avoid sugary foods. During my visits, my dentist or hygienist usually says things along the line of “keep your gums healthy and they will help keep you healthy.”

I always smile and thank them for the advice. Honestly though, I just wrote their comments off as great marketing – a way to keep me coming back.

I now know that they were giving me sound advice since research is proving more and more that gum disease is the leading cause of tooth loss in adults. Also, people with gum disease may have a higher risk of various other conditions such as diabetes, dementia and cardiovascular problems.

What Is Gum Disease?

Gum disease is an inflammation of the gum line that can affect the bone that supports and surrounds your teeth. Just like your intestines, your mouth is home to different types of bacteria. When all the types of bacteria are in balance, your gums are protected from disease-causing bacteria.

However, disturbing the bacteria balance provides an opening for disease-causing bacteria and other microorganisms to invade the gums.

According to the British Dental Journal, activities like smoking, taking certain medications like antibiotics, poor oral hygiene and poor diet may disturb the balance of bacteria in our mouth and enhance the activity of these disease-causing bacteria.

This increase in disease-causing bacteria generally results in your body’s immune system, and the white blood cells that get rid of them, to produce substances that not only destroy the bacteria but also damage your gum tissue. If left untreated, gum disease can lead to loss of teeth.

How Can You Be Proactive?

While going to your dentist regularly, brushing and flossing, and reducing your sugar intake will go far in preventing bacterial infection and reducing inflammation of your gums, those steps alone are not enough.

You may want to avoid smoking because people who smoke are more likely to develop gum disease. Also, discuss with your doctor any effect the medications you take may have on your gums.

Consider using a periobiotic toothpaste. I have been using this specialized toothpaste for over a year. It reportedly has a probiotic that competes with the unhealthy strains of oral bacteria and helps to maintain my gums healthy.

Finally, you need to make sure that your gums are getting the nutrients they need, and in the right amounts, to stay healthy.

A good analogy is trying to lose weight by only exercising and not changing your diet. The reality is that no amount of Stairmaster will make up for scarfing down a dozen donuts! The same holds true for your gums.

Many studies have shown that a balanced diet plays an essential role in maintaining periodontal health. If your diet is rich in fresh fruits and vegetables, you’re probably getting most of the nutrients your gums need. Some of the critical nutrients include the following:

Vitamin A

There is evidence that vitamin A may help improve periodontal health. It can be found in carrots, liver, sweet potatoes, eggs, cod liver oil and green leafy vegetables.

B Vitamins

Deficiency in the B vitamins may lead to bleeding gums. B vitamins have also been associated with speedy healing after gum surgery and other periodontitis treatments. You can find the B vitamins in foods such as bananas, eggs, avocado, leafy vegetables and peanuts.

Vitamin C

Vitamin C is critical for bleeding gums and inflammation. For more information, you can read my recent Sixty and Me blog about our need for vitamin C.

Vitamin D

Clinical studies have suggested that a deficiency in vitamin D may cause gum inflammation and a delay in healing after gum surgery. Your body makes vitamin D when your skin is exposed to the sun.

There aren’t a whole lot of natural food choices to get your daily vitamin D requirements. As a result, it may be important to speak with a competent physician about taking a vitamin D supplement.

Vitamin E

A few studies report positive effects of vitamin E in maintaining good gum health. This vitamin can be found in poultry, meat, fish seeds and cereals.

Vitamin K

Not having enough of vitamin K may lead to bleeding gums. You can find it in green vegetables and egg yolks.

Calcium

Calcium is critical for the maintenance of our teeth. A deficiency in calcium may affect our gum health. This mineral can be found in many foods naturally, including nuts, seeds, leafy vegetables and dairy products.

Gum Disease and Boomers

Periodontal disease is at epidemic proportions. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 70 percent of boomers over age 65 have moderate to severe periodontal disease.

This may be due to medical conditions and medications which not only affect the balance of bacteria in the mouth but also the ability to absorb some of the critical nutrients described here. For example, some over the counter medications may prevent you from absorbing calcium and certain vitamins from the food you eat.

If you have any of the following symptoms, you should see a dentist as soon as possible:

  • Tender or red gums
  • Gums that easily bleed
  • Bad breath
  • Loose teeth
  • Noticeable hard, brown deposits at the gum line
  • Changes in how your dental appliances, e.g., bridgework, may fit

As with anything to do with your body, the best way to know if you´re getting the right balance of nutrients to keep your gums healthy is to do a nutrient test.

Armed with this information, you can better work with your healthcare provider to protect your gums and overall health. After all, a smile is the best makeup we can wear!

What is your experience with oral health in general and periodontal health in particular? Have you noticed any changes or done anything differently in recent years? Have you ever been diagnosed or treated for periodontal disease? How did you deal with it? What is your routine to keep your gums healthy? Tell us about it. Please join the conversation.

Joy Stephenson-LawsJoy Stephenson-Laws is the founder of Proactive Health Labs, a national non-profit health information company that provides education and tools needed to achieve optimal health. Her most recent book is Minerals – The Forgotten Nutrient: Your Secret Weapon for Getting and Staying Healthy, available through Amazon, iTunes and bookstores.

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