15 November 2010

Yes, you can cure periodontal disease

About 4 years ago, I was diagnosed with periodontal disease.

Well, actually, I was abruptly dismissed from the chair and summarily dismissed from practice of the dentist I had been seeing for ten years. It was pretty clear that in this dentist's mind, periodintal disease is more sin than affliction.

Mind you, my dental care hadn't changed significantly over the ten years, though my health had definitely been deteriorating.

The dentist sent me to her associate, who informed me that periodontal disease is incurable and that in order to save my teeth, I was going to have to commit to a mind-bendingly involved dental program that included, among other things, a visit for cleaning every six weeks for the foreseeable future.

I have never been fond of the concept of "can't" and I certainly was not willing to commit to working with someone who declares something 'incurable" at the outset and has in mind a very expensive and time consuming method to keep at bay. I also had the distinct impression that he shared my former dentists views of the moral standing of anyone with periodontal disease. Ick.

I went looking and found a dental practice near my office that was also able to treat periodontal disease. One that didn't see periodontal disease as a terrible horrible sin. Rather than every six weeks, they wanted to see me for a deep cleaning every three months. It still sounded pretty dreadful, but still ... it was better than every six weeks. They agreed with the first periodontist that periodontal can't be *cured*, but they were encouraging about my ability to put it into a sort of remission where the deterioration would slow dramatically and where deep cleanings would be every six months.

I figured that was a good start.

But it wasn't enough. I wanted my healthy mouth back. So it was time to do some research.

Over the next few years, I turned up a lot of web pages that confirmed that periodontal disease was a one-way ticket to dentures. But in amongst those, I found a few pages that suggested otherwise.

Among the things I learned was that periodontal disease is a multi-level problem of inflammation, bone weakening in the jaw, and opportunistic bacterial infection of the gums. Treating one factor can reduce the deterioration, but unless all three are addressed, any improvement will be incremental and temporary.

The first step I took was to address the beginnings of bone loss. I am pretty sure that a mix of nutrients including a lot of minerals is the best way to make sure that we have whatever we need to rebuild bone. I started using bone stock every day as the basis of soups, stews, or just for braising. Next, I added horsetail tea. I drink it hot with alfalfa, nettle, and any other nourishing teas I feel like adding, or I make the tea and then when it's cool, I strain it over ice.

The next step was to rein in the inflammation. The first step was get my blood sugar down since high blood sugar and a lot of free insulin are very damaging and inflammatory. Next I started soaking grains, even rice, for 24 hours or more in warm water with a bit of lemon juice. This technique helps to reduce the phytic acids in the grains, which can reduce their inflammatory effect.

Even these steps saw me making great improvements. My gums were recovering and only in a couple of very hard to reach spots was I showing any sign of my gums continuing to recede. It was after a year of this that my periodontist told me that I was "his first graduate". I was allowed to stop getting deep cleanings every three months and just get a regular cleaning every six months from the dental hygienist.

Next I discovered that grains were causing me a lot more trouble with inflammation than I had realized. I have a strong sensitivity to just about all grains, and the symptoms I get from them scream 'inflammation'. I stopped eating grains entirely to make the pain stop--but this also had the effect of reducing my overall inflammation levels and improved my dental health even more.

However I continued to have problems with one of the spots in my mouth that is very hard to reach. That brings us to bacterial infection -- and a method of getting to the areas that are very hard to clean.

I came across the idea of pre-rinsing with a capful of hydrogen peroxide and a cap of water with a few drops of tea tree oil. See, it turns out that tea tree does tend to reduce gum infection, but it's not very good at reducing cavities. Peroxide is good at reducing cavities, but isn't so good at preventing or reducing gum infection. In combination, they're a powerhouse! I add a drop or two of tea tree oil to keep any other opportunistic bacteria and yeasts under control. I swish this all through my mouth, but especially in the areas that have continued to be inflamed. Then, once a week, I brush with the peroxide and tea tree combination and a little baking soda on the brush. That reduces the gum inflammation further and makes my teeth look less like I drink as much coffee and tea as a I do.

I came from a dental appointment this evening. The news was very good. To explain, normal measurements of gum pockets are between 2 and 3mm. 4 is a transition size--good or bad depending on what it was last time. 5-12 are bad to worse, and at 11 or 12 you're not far from losing the tooth. When I was diagnosed, my "good" numbers were four and five. Today, I was almost entirely 2 and 3. I have one pocket at 5 -- the tough one. But that was a 9 last time. I had absolutely no gum bleeding, and the plaque buildup was minimal.

There was much marveling amongst the staff who knew me. If these trends continue, I'll be able to go to a once per year cleaning. They will probably never declare me "cured", because periodontal disease isn't curable, but I'd say this is working.


  1. Interesting!!

    I was diagnosed with severe periodontal disease several years ago. I hadn't been flossing -- I hadn't made the connection that flossing improves gum health, so I didn't see what the point of flossing was. I became an enthusiastic flosser and for a few years I used to rinse my mouth with an alcohol-based mouthwash -- which my dentist at the time recommended, but then later ones told me to stop because they said that it would dry out the skin in the mouth.

    Back when I was diagnosed, I had lots of big pockets. Today my teeth are pretty much normal.

    This is the first time that I've heard that periodontal disease is incurable. I'm glad my gums didn't know that! :-)

  2. Hi, Valerie,

    I'm glad not all dentists are scare-mongers! I'd have preferred to have your dentist's approach.

    I still don't floss much, though I use inter-dental brushes frequently (like several times per day).

    I occasionally use an alcohol based mouth rinse, but not often -- it makes my mouth peel on the inside and I can't quite believe that's good on an ongoing basis. ;) But I haven't felt the need since I started using my homemade pre-brush rinse. Maybe I never will. ;)

  3. My dentist says that if I want to rinse with something that kills germs and isn't bad for the skin in my mouth that I should use salt water. I've been doing that occasionally, but not on a regular basis, for a few years now and it seems to work.

    One more thing I realized that I should mention: My new dental problem is gum erosion -- permanent damage from brushing my teeth! So I'm working on brushing more gently and less frequently. Sigh... It's always something, isn't it?

  4. Hi, Valerie -- yeah, it does always seem to be one thing if it's not another. One rule of thumb I have heard is that if your toothbrush starts to look mashed down after a while, you're brushing too hard. I seem to be OK -- but hideously over sensitive teeth pretty much assures that. (So bad that they sometimes have to sue the gel they pout on before a Novocaine injection all over my teeth so they can clean them.)

    Salt water sure tastes better than tea tree oil. ;)


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