Don’t Be One of the 743 Million: Lower Your Risk of Gum Disease!


Credit: Derren Ready. Wellcome Images

You may not know it by name, but it’s hardly an unfamiliar problem: periodontitis, a/k/a advanced gum disease. Most Americans have gum disease to one degree or another, and research published last autumn in the Journal of Dental Research determined that its severe form is now the sixth most prevalent disease in the world.

It’s also a progressive disease. Bleeding gums lead to the deepening of pockets around the teeth, which become perfect harbors for pathogenic bacteria (“germs”) to multiply. Eventually, these microbes damage the soft tissues and bone that hold the teeth in place. Tooth loss is a natural consequence.

Proper treatment , of course, can keep this from happening. Even better is to prevent the problem from cropping up in the first place.

For although periodontitis is prevalent, it is also largely preventable.

So why should it be that so many people all around the world – 743 million! – struggle with gum disease in its severe form?

One possibility is the slow but steady westernizing of the rest of the world. As the World Health Organization has noted, rapid economic development and urbanization typically lead to a rise in unhealthy habits such as tobacco use, physical inactivity, alcohol abuse and poor diet (largely hyper-processed and with little fresh produce).

All of these are factors in gum disease – not to mention a wide range of systemic illnesses, including heart disease and cancer.

Dr. Weston Price was the first to fully document the impact of diet and nutrition on oral health and how the teeth and jaws grow. Traveling around the world, he found that people living in traditional cultures tended to have large, well-formed jaws and arches, and straight, healthy teeth. Problems occurred when they shifted to a western, industrial diet. High in refined sugar and white flour, this way of eating quickly led to narrow arches, crooked teeth, tooth decay – maladies virtually unknown to cultures that maintained a diet rich in nutrient-dense, locally farmed whole foods.

Then there’s smoking: the number one risk factor for periodontitis. Despite the well known dangers, over a billion people worldwide still smoke daily. Once tobacco was reserved for evening relaxation and celebrations in ancient cultures. Now, about 10 million cigarettes are sold every minute! For while far fewer folks are smoking in industrialized nations, those in developing countries are lighting up more and more.

Lack of sleep and chronic stress are also major factors, as is lack of exercise – all, perfect fuel for other unhealthy habits as we try to cope.

Fortunately, all of these problems contain their own solutions, letting you drastically slash your risk of gum disease or improve treatment outcomes if you’ve already developed it:

·       Eat whole foods-based diet, rich in fresh produce, low in processed food products. Organic, sustainable and local is even better.

·       Quit smoking (or chewing tobacco).

·       Get enough quality sleep. Here are 7 great tips for how to make this a habit.

·       Work on ways of constructively coping with stress and your ability to be resilient in the face of challenges. You’ll find some good ideas to get you started here and here and here.

·       Exercise regularly. One study found that regular exercise can cut never-smokers’ risk of periodontitis in half. And the news is even better for non-smokers: Their risk dropped 74%! Other studies give similar findings.

That good oral hygiene – regular dental visits and cleanings, daily brushing and flossing – goes along with these habits should go without saying, but there – we’ve said it anyway. You can even amp up your home care with practices like oil pulling and the use of herbal tonics with natural antimicrobials.

Keeping your teeth and gums clean means giving oral pathogens less of a chance to take over in the first place.

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