Decades ago, it was thought that periodontitis, or gum disease, isn't treatable, and elderly people in particular were quick to be prescribed dentures. Dentist Maria Toompere, however, says that gum disease is absolutely treatable today, and that treatment doesn't even have to involve incisions.
"When teeth are coated in a layer of dental plaque and bacteria, the gums don't want to hold onto them anymore," Toompere described in an appearance on ETV morning show "Terevisioon" on Tuesday. "That's how the problems start: the gums end up chronically infected."
She explained that smaller amounts of plaque can be removed just by brushing one's teeth.
"Once dental plaque turns into tartar, however, they can't remove it themselves anymore," she continued. "And when the tartar reaches the root of the tooth, then figuratively speaking, the gums and bone are given the signal, 'This is a foreign body for us, and we're going to start driving it out of our organism via infection.'"z
Signs that it has reached the infection stage include halitosis, or bad breath, and bleeding gums. "Healthy gums never bleed," Toompere stressed. "If your gums are bleeding, you should see a dentist to figure out what's causing it."
According to the dentist, gum disease can affect a person's entire body. Bacteria to enter the bloodstream via one's teeth can promote the buildup of arterial plaque, for example, increasing the risk of heart disease, including heart attacks. She cited a University of Pennsylvania study according to which the cardiovascular disease treatment costs of patients to receive periodontal treatment were reduced by 40 percent.
Toompere's key message, however, was that gum disease is treatable; compared with its Scandinavian neighbors, Estonia just has a shorter history of gum disease treatment.
"You can see in Estonia that teeth are maybe too quick to be pulled," she acknowledged. "As a matter of fact, they can be preserved, and the idea that if you're old, you'll just have removable dentures is simply wrong." With the right care, she added, one can keep their own teeth for their entire lives.
When a patient with tartar is seen by a dentist, the dentist removes the tartar, or hardened dental plaque, from the patient's gingival pockets.
"They used to make incisions into the gums to do so," Toompere said. "Now we have such good instruments that I see no reason to do so."
Once the tartar has been removed, the patient will be prescribed a round of antibiotics. "There's no need to lightly prescribe antibiotics either, but this is complex treatment," she acknowledged. "You need to constantly monitor them, and they themselves have to be very good and brush their teeth correctly."
Editor: Aili Vahtla