by Anya Uppal
Burr Ridge periodontal specialist Dr. Paul Denemark wants everyone and their doctors to think about their gums during their next medical exam, as it is perhaps the most overlooked area of the human anatomy.
According to Denemark, many people are unaware of the importance of good gum health. The gums, also known as the gingiva, line the mouth and provide a seal around the teeth—a shield to protect your body from bacteria that can enter through one of the only openings in your body which leads directly into your blood stream and vital organs such as your heart and lungs. Before you run to the bathroom to grab your dental floss, Denemark outlines some key facts and precautions you can take to have andbuild a strong “ front-line” with your gums to fight off infection in the most crucial and obvious place—your mouth.
Denemark reminds patients that the area where the tooth and the gum meet is highly susceptible to potential infection, which is the main issue regarding why people get gingivitis, a gum disease which causes inflammation of the gums.
“As a problem, it has become more and more popular amongst the medical profession now, because they realize the gravity of what gum health has on overall health,” Denemark said. “ It is crucial to keep good oral hygiene, and get checked for gum disease by a dentist. You could be walking around with a severe infection, and it doesn’ t hurt until it becomes involved in the deeper structures of the jaw bones."
Symptoms of gingivitis include swollen gums, bleeding and pain in the gums. Bad breath is also common with the infection.
“The odor from the gases of the bacteria are living in areas deep inside the gum where there is very little oxygen, and then when things [start to move], the gases get liberated and the odor comes out...which is essentially decaying flesh,” Denemark said.
Having proper gum health is crucial to one’ s health, because it not only affects the mouth, but other parts of the body as well. Denemark said that the body’ s response creates a higher level of inflammation that can translate to other areas of the body, and that there is a direct correlation between gum disease and diabetes.
“I’ ve had cases...where patients have had diabetes, and when we have cleared up their gum disease, their diabetes gets better,” he said.
When Denemark performs a surgery on the gums, he uses lasers to remove the infection. The lasers are a source of light energy that is absorbed into the infected tissue, which is darker in color. The darker tissue becomes vaporized, and then is removed, while the healthy tissue stays and regenerates, restoring the actual tissues that are supposed to be there.
Denemark added that the awareness of dental health is low and should start to be taken more seriously. He said it is a part of the human body that needs to be treated with great care, just as one would other parts of the body.
Q: How important is good gum health, and what should people be aware of? A: I can’ t stress enough that if you have bleeding gums, there is a problem. You need to run to the dentist in the same way you would run to the physician if your eyeball was bleeding! When you see blood in your mouth, that is your red flag to have it checked out.’
Q: How is poor health linked to symptoms of gum disease?
A: For years, we have known there has been a connection between systemic types of diseases and conditions and the relationship between that pathway into the body through the mouth. We know there is a correlation between gum disease and pre-term low-birthweight babies. If the mother has gum disease going into a pregnancy, there is a higher incidence. It is not necessarily the bacteria, but it’ s the body’ s response creating a heightened level of inflammation that can translate to other areas of the body. Women thinking about having babies should be screened and checked for gum disease, and should be treated. Patients with gum disease are inhaling bacteria, because of the large quantities in their gums, and this can potentially lead to lung infections.’’
HM: Tell us why you became a periodontist, and how your practice has progressed over the years?
A: Periodontics is a marriage of dentistry and medicine. Having tried to help patients become healthier as a general dentist, I felt limited. I became a periodontist, because I saw that. We are held to a different standard as dentists and dental professionals. We need to know additionally about patient’ s overall health. Living and working in the area for the past 25 years, I have come to know many of the fine physicians and dentists, and [am] pleased to say they are more knowledgeable about the connection between medical and oral health. Patients wanting total body health need to thoroughly discuss [their] health concerns with both physicians and dentists, and include a periodontist. In this day and age, few are actually thinking about dental health, when we know what a direct impact it has on overall health.