Naturally Healthy Teeth andGums

Keep your smile bright with these holistic helpers.

| January/February 2005

Whitening toothpastes. Mouthwashes. Home bleaching kits. There is certainly no shortage of products available to whiten teeth and freshen breath. We are a nation obsessed with the appearance of our mouths. But the focus of all this obsession might be misplaced: paying attention to our teeth and mouths is far more than just a cosmetic concern.

Research shows that our overall well-being is clearly linked to the condition of our teeth and gums. By cultivating good dental health habits — and with the help of herbs known to promote healthy teeth and gums — we can prevent tooth decay, gum disease and even heart disease. As a bonus, we’ll have whiter teeth and fresher breath!

Primary Causes of Dental Troubles

According to the American Dental Hygienists’ Association, almost 75 percent of U.S. adults older than 35 have some form of gum disease. It’s long been known that gum disease can cause serious dental problems, including tooth loss. But in the past decade, gum disease has been linked to other health concerns, including heart attacks, strokes, respiratory diseases and premature births.

These problems arise from the bacteria (specifically Streptococcus mutans) contained in plaque, a sticky, colorless film that forms on teeth. This bacteria can travel throughout the bloodstream, triggering the development of gum disease or worsening existing conditions. For example, inflammatory compounds produced by the body’s reaction to the bacteria stimulate the buildup of cholesterol in the arteries. Researchers have found that periodontal (gum) disease almost doubles the risk of coronary artery disease. Bacteria in the mouth also can be inhaled into the lungs, where the germs multiply, potentially causing respiratory infections such as pneumonia. Studies of pregnant women with gum disease show they are up to seven times more likely to have a premature or underweight baby.

Signs that you might have gum disease include sore or bleeding gums, bad breath or receding gums. Gingivitis, an early stage of gum disease, is an inflammation and infection of the gums. Most of the time, gingivitis can be reversed with daily brushing and flossing to remove bacteria, and twice-yearly professional cleanings. But if gingivitis is left untreated, it can lead to periodontitis. At this more serious stage of gum disease, the gum pulls away from the teeth and forms pockets. Food debris and bacteria collect in the pockets, and plaque spreads below the gum line. Infection beneath the gums breaks down the bone and connective tissue that anchor the teeth. If left untreated, periodontal disease results in tooth loss.

Tooth decay is another major dental health concern. Although most people associate cavities with childhood, decay is a serious problem for adults, too. When gums recede, vulnerable tooth roots are exposed to the bacteria that cause decay. According to the American Dental Association, the majority of people older than 50 suffer from tooth-root decay. In addition, decay around the edges of fillings is a common problem for adults because as fillings weaken and crack, bacteria gain access to the tooth.

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