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Long In The Tooth


Gum Disease

Teeth often become a major concern as we age. While treatment of dental problems has advanced significantly in recent years, looking after our teeth and ensuring we have adequate bite through our senior years still takes time and often quite a bit of money as well.

It is not surprising we have problems in this area - our mouths are full of bacteria which contribute towards forming “plaque” on our teeth which can then turn to tartar. If the plaque and tartar is not removed properly, overtime it can lead to inflammation of the gums known as gingivitis.

Advanced gingivitis in turn can lead to periodontitis which really means inflammation around the teeth. Here the gums pull back from the teeth leaving little pockets which in turn become infected. This can lead to the destruction of the bones, the gums and the tissues that support the teeth. Eventually of course the teeth will drop out.

The old expression “long in the tooth” is apt because when the gums pull back, more of the tooth is exposed making it look longer.

Now there is hope that an innovative new system will lead to early diagnosis and treatment of the disease before gum problems really set it.

Researchers at Columbia University Medical Center in America have devised a new system for classifying periodontal disease which is based on the genetic signature of affected tissue rather than on clinical signs and symptoms in the mouth.

Panos N. Papapanou, DDS, PhD, professor and Chair of oral and diagnostic sciences at the College of Dental Medicine at the university, has explained that at the moment periodontal disease is classified as either chronic or aggressive depending on symptoms such as the level of gum swelling and extent of bone loss.

He says the trouble has been that it has been hard to know whether a periodontal infection is truly aggressive until severe, irreversible damage has occurred.

Dr Papapanou and his team were interested in the way biologists were using the genetic signatures of tumors to classify and find the best treatment for individual cancer patients and they decided to see if similar techniques could be appropriate for gum disease.

The results have been very positive. More research is being done but the idea is that patients could be identified before they show clear clinical signs of severe periodontitis. This means early aggressive therapies could be introduced before damage to tooth supporting structures have occurred. It is early days but things are progressing fast which is really good news for anyone over 50.

But of course the best treatment of all is achieving the highest level of oral hygiene through brushing and flossing.

The NHS website page below gives some good tips on cleaning your teeth including less commonly known facts such as brushing your tongue should be included in your dental routine to help clean your mouth and remove additional bacteria.


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