Of course, the best thing to do about gum disease is keep it from developing in the first place. That’s largely a matter of
- Keeping up good hygiene (brushing twice and flossing once daily),
- Seeing your dentist at least twice a year for regular exams and professional cleanings,
- Eating a whole foods-based diet, high in fresh produce, low in sugars and other refined, hyper-processed carbs,
- Living tobacco-free,
- Exercising regularly, and
- Getting enough quality sleep.
But the fact of the matter is that most Americans already have it to some degree. (The tell-tale sign? Bleeding when you brush or floss.) So the next best thing is to do something about it as soon as possible, while non-surgical therapy is still a viable option.
More frequent dental visits for deep cleaning are a must. So is ramping up your home hygiene, adding herbal antimicrobials and additional cleaning tools such as interdental brushes, perio-aids and oral irrigators to further control the pathogens that cause periodontal disease.
As the disease worsens, progressing from gingivitis to periodontitis, your risk of many systemic diseases goes up. (For more on this, see last week’s post.) You also risk ultimately losing your teeth. For the hallmark of gum disease is the destruction of tissue – both the soft gum tissue and the hard bone below which helps anchor your teeth. As you lose these supporting tissues, your teeth become loose. Eventually, your dentist or periodontist may recommend extractions, or the teeth may eventually fall out on their own.
Toothless is never a stylish look.
Fortunately, there are surgical options to help tame periodontal disease. Traditionally, this has involved things like cutting away diseased tissue to stimulate the growth of new tissue, as well as gum and bone grafts to create more support for the vulnerable teeth. These procedures can be very effective. They’re also highly invasive. They can leave you in some discomfort afterwards and definitely wiped out for a few days.
But laser dentistry offers a gentler, less invasive alternative – one that may actually be even more effective than conventional perio surgery.
One of the most successful treatments is a protocol called LANAP, which stands for “laser assisted new attachment procedure.” With the laser, we can thoroughly disinfect the periodontal pockets that form around each tooth and deepen as the disease advances. We can trim away diseased tissue while preserving healthy tissue. We can more effectively clean below the gum line and around the tooth roots where perio pathogens abound. After all, it’s the perfect environment for them: dark, damp and low in oxygen. (That these microbes dislike oxygen is why ozone therapy can be effective for treating perio problems, as well.)
You can think of it as a kind of extra deep cleaning. Here’s a quick look at how it works:
But there’s another benefit to LANAP, as well. There’s good and mounting evidence that it can stimulate the production of supporting bone. So unlike with grafts, biocompatibility is a non-issue. Your body creates what it needs in a way that will last – so long as any risk factors are addressed, as well.
If you’re a smoker who intends to go right on smoking, for instance, then the investment in such advanced perio therapy really wouldn’t make much sense. Tobacco use is the number one risk factor for gum disease. Continuing the habit after LANAP – or traditional surgery – fairly guarantees a resurgence of the disease. (This is why some periodontists actually require tobacco users to quit before they’ll provide such treatment.)
LANAP is well supported by scientific research. For instance, a study published last year in the International Journal of Periodontics and Restorative Dentistry found that LANAP reduced pocket depth and improved tooth stability in “the majority of treated sites.” A larger study compared LANAP to three other conventional surgeries and found that while most all were effective, there was less bleeding and significantly greater patient comfort with LANAP.
In fact, with the aid of local anesthetic, you scarcely feel a thing – unlike, say, with scaling and root planing (“deep cleaning”), where you can feel pressure against your teeth. And afterwards, there’s little or no discomfort – no tenderness, soreness or lingering sensitivity.
But even better – again – is to keep from needing such treatment at all.