Gum disease, which is often painless at first, is the most common of all diseases among adults. About 50 percent of American adults suffer from its first stage, many without knowing it.
The first stage, gingivitis, must be treated to prevent the advancement of the second, more severe stage, periodontitis. This afflicts a quarter of people age 60 and older.
The optimum strategy is not to get gum disease in the first place.
Although gingivitis, an inflammation, can cause gums to be red and tender and to sometimes bleed, George Gettinger, a periodontist in Woonsocket, R.I., says half the patients he sees are unaware they have it.
Knowledge is critical. Uncontrolled, the bacteria cause the collagen in ligament fibers to break down. The gum detaches from the teeth and the pockets around the teeth get deeper, causing more plaque and tartar to accumulate. The bacteria creep along the root to where the tooth touches the bone. The result is bone loss and periodontitis.
To fight gingivitis:
* Floss every day. Most people floss too fast and use a "sawing motion" between the teeth. Move floss up and down rather than back and forth, and make sure to lean into each side of each tooth, getting down under the gum.
* Brush after meals. Those with plaque problems might consider buying one of the new battery-powered brushes.
Unlike the old electric toothbrushes, which were just like manual toothbrushes electrified, the new models have a circular motion that really does get at hard-to-reach spots.
* Toothpastes: Colgate Total has Triclosan, an antibacterial agent that has proved effective for reducing gingivitis, and has the American Dental Association seal of approval.
* Listerine is an ADA-approved mouthwash to reduce plaque and gingivitis, but it has to be used twice a day, every day, to work. Prescription rinses that contain chlorhexidine are even more effective than Listerine.
* Regular cleanings at the dentist's office lower the population of bacteria in the mouth, disrupt the expansion of bacteria colonies and create smoother surfaces so that plaque and bacteria can't adhere. People with healthy gums should go twice a year; people who already have gum disease should go four times a year.
Pub Date: 8/30/98