Friday, January 26, 2007

Gum Disease: Preventable, Reversable, and All Up To You.

A surefire way to create all kinds of space around you, maybe even clear an entire room, is to start talking about your gum disease. People won't say "yuck." They don't have to. It will be written all over their faces as they check the watch and say, "You know, gotta go."

Intuitively, we know that the human mouth is a dirty, filthy place and we don't want to be reminded of it. For the record, the mouth is the second most contaminated human orifice. And, whether we like it or not, sooner or later, it's going to get our attention -- unpleasantly -- unless we pay attention on our own.

I recently went for my regular visit to my dentist. I went for a cleaning, something I do every four months. Why? Because I, gulp, have gum disease.

Wait! Don't leave! I promise not to talk about red, swollen, bleeding gums. I won't try to scare you with graphic photos of periodontal disease. Actually, I'm going to tell you about a visit to the dentist that was not only pain-free but pleasant.

I showed up harboring a delicious little secret that I withheld from the dental hygienist, shown in the photo working on my mouth. Knowing very well the nature of this opening, teeming as it is with acid-producing Porphyromonas gingivalis bacteria, she sensibly wears a protective mask and gloves.

While chatting about kids and grandkids, she poked and prodded and burnished. With my mouth a work site, I could only listen and wonder what she thought of my gums. As she worked, the hygienist would normally note problem areas and make gentle suggestions for home care.

This time, she didn't. Finally, I couldn't hold my little secret in any longer. After rinsing and spitting into the little bowl, I asked matter-of-factly, "Notice anything different?"

She said she hadn't seen me the last time. She looked over the notes of the hygienist who had. As she read, she said, "Bleeding ... pockets ... possible therapy." Then she told me to open up. She inspected my mouth, taking her time, checking the entire gum line.

"You know what," she said finally. "I really like what I see."

"You see improvement?"

"Very much so. The pockets have tightened up and there was hardly any bleeding, and that only when I dug in hard."

She looked at me quizzedly.

I smiled. "I've been a good boy," I said. "Every night for the last four months I have brushed, flossed, and rinsed thoroughly with water and Listerine. I never missed a night. And I took my time, up to a half hour. By the time I went to bed, my mouth was as clean as I could possibly get it."

"Well, congratulations. I can tell you all your hard work was worth it."

"Do I get a star on my forehead?"

"No, but I'll give you a sticker."

On the way out, she awarded me a sticker in front of the office staff. I left the dentist's office as proud as any third-grader told by his teacher that he has been a good boy.

When it comes to home dental care, I haven't always been a good boy -- which is probably why I came down with gingivitus in the first place. For years, I brushed healf-heartedly and often missed days. I flossed irregularly, usually to dislodge a chunk of meat.

Every time you eat, particles of food get stuck in and around your teeth, providing sustenance for bacteria. The mouth is warm, moist, accessible and a highly hospitable environment for bacteria. They just love life in your mouth.

For these microscopic creatures, it's the good life. The food particles that we so thoughtfully leave for them couldn't be more convenient. It's like having somebody deliver tasty take-out meals every day right to the living room.

The bacteria, part of a complex mass called placque that constantly forms in the mouth, produce acid every time we eat. The more often we eat and the longer the food particles stay in the mouth, the more time the bacteria have to produce the acids that attack teeth and the gums that hold them in place.

That's why the food particles must be removed every day through brushing, flossing, and rinsing with water and anti-bacterial mouth wash. Many dentists say that for best results this should be done after every meal. Yeah, right. Not in the world I live in where gum disease is not spoken of much less confronted three times a day.

So some 15 years ago, my gum disease progressed to swollen and bleeding gums and my dentist at the time referred me for surgery. The surgery involved cutting away infected gum tissue and grafting on healthy tissue. One side was done and it was so brutally painful that I refused to have the other side done.

"The cure was worse than the disease," I told the dental surgeon and walked out.

I brushed and flossed and rinsed religiously for about six months. To my amazement, the side not operated on greatly improved. It improved to the point that it was hard to tell which side had been operated on. That told me something: surgery is not necessarily the best treatment for gum disease.

I don't have a beautiful smile as this photo shows. But all the teeth are mine with the help of lots of crowns and with the exception of the front two. Those two are permanent replacements for the two that were knocked out when many years ago I took a puck in the mouth playing ice hockey.

And, you can't tell from the photo, but the gums are relatively healthy because I have been diligent in daily brushing, flossing, and anti-bacterial gurgling. Call it a religious phase. I tend to get religion, regress, get religion, regress.

But I am determined that it is going to be different this time. I have just about convinced myself that with this gum disease, I'm going to kick ass and never stop.

Yet as I write this, it is getting late and tonight I don't feel like brushing and flossing and gurgling. As soon as I post this, I just want to hop into bed.

See how quickly and easily it is to falter. I haven't even finished this cheerleading post and I'm thinking about giving up!

Over the course of this up-and-down cycle, I learned something else: Whether I have gum disease or not is entirely in my own hands. Gum disease is not destiny. No one has to have gum disease unless he or she is willing to let it happen.

Yet the majority of us are willing to let it happen. We let the early stage(gingivitus) where the gums swell and bleed easily progress to the advanced stage (periodontitus)where the inner layer of the gum and bone pull away from the teeth and form pockets.

The pockets collect debris that in turn can lead to infection and the destruction of gum tissue and bone. At this point, the teeth no longer have an anchor and become progressively looser. With gum tissue receding, we become "long in the tooth."

This ancient expression for being old has its origin in gum disease. For centuries, old age and gum disease have gone together with the ultimate outcome almost always being tooth loss. Today we know that growing old does not mean that you have to lose your teeth.

Gum disease is both preventable and reversable as I myself have proven, to my shame, too many times. I am in the process of proving it once again, having in the last four months reversed the lastest onslaught of gum disease.

On second thought, I'm going to end this post here and go brush, floss, and rinse until I have the cleanest, most sweet-smelling mouth for miles around. I'm going to go now before I change my mind, again.

So long and keep moving.

P.S. Just for the fun of it, bring up the subject of gum disease at your next social gathering. Watch the reaction.

 NOTE: My novel, State Kid: Hero of Literacy is now available on Amazon and with the Nook.

Billy Stone was a foster child.

He ran away from abuse.

He went to juvenile prison.

He went up from there.

And he did it his way.

With the power of the written word. 

Amazon E-Books by George Pollock

 "State Kid: Hero of Literacy" is fiction based on his  real-life experiences  growing up in foster homes; "Last Laughs," is the true story of how five foster kids (he and four younger siblings) found their way in life and each other. "Killers: Surprises in a Maximum Security Prison," is the story of his being locked up for 23 hours with killers in a maximum security prison;  "I, Cadaver" is about his postmortem adventures and mischief in the anatomy lab at UMass Medical School. “A Beautiful Story” demonstrates the art and process of creative writing as a 16-year-old boy goes all out to write a story that literally saves his life;  "A Long, Happy, Healthy Life,"  is about how to live the title every day; and "Unlove Story," Writing anonymously as "Elvis," a husband, dumped after 38 years of marriage, lets it all out on love, marriage, life, everything. A guy doing this? It's unheard of.
   For the Nook:

A Beautiful Story
A Long, Happy, Healthy Life
I, Cadaver
State Kid
Unlove Story