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Toothache and Gum Disease

December 16th, 2001 · Dr. Kane's Articles ·

Toothaches and gum diseases are usually only related in that they both occur in the mouth. They have, generally speaking, very different causes and therefore will be discussed separately in this article.

The classic toothache is almost always caused by nerve pain due to an exposed nerve root. While it is true that receding gums can expose nerve roots, causing “tooth” pain, another scenario is that of a filling worn down or fallen out. Chewing gum regularly will make fillings come out more quickly; avoid it if possible. Usually a toothache requires a trip to the dentist, however there a number of treatments you can access relatively easily if you can’t see the dentist right away.

First of all, avoid very hot or very cold foods or beverages, such as hot coffee or ice cream. Also, avoid hard to bite foods such as raw carrots or apples. Gentle pressure onto the hurting tooth through the cheek may provide some relief. You could also try holding a warm wrung out towel against the cheek or jaw over the painful area, or a castor oil pack. The castor oil pack is a marvelous tool for pain relief anywhere. Simply apply a generous layer of castor oil to the area that hurts (in the case of toothache apply the oil to the cheek; putting castor oil in your mouth could cause stomach cramps or loose stools), cover with a layer of saran wrap then apply a hot towel or heating pad to the area. Be careful not to burn the skin. Rest with the heat on for at least 20 minutes. The castor oil will stimulate “drainage” of the blood congested with microbes, in the case of infection, or with pain producing elements, such as cytokines, in the case of dental nerve irritation. Castor oil is available in most health-food stores.

One of the easiest and most effective natural pain killers, especially for toothache, is clove oil. Many dentists still use clove oil in their offices where stronger analgesics (pharmacologic agents for pain suppression), such as Novocaine, can be avoided. You can rub the clove oil directly onto the painful area inside the mouth. Dilute it with olive oil if it is too strong straight. You can also hold a whole peg of clove in your mouth at the site of the toothache. The numbing sensation will kick in quite rapidly, and will last up to 90 minutes. Although not quite so effective as clove oil, garlic or myrrh oils can be locally applied for pain relief. Wintergreen oil works too and so does Aloe vera juice, especially if the pain is accompanied by inflammation or obvious irritation. Another trick is to roll a small amount of beeswax onto crushed aspirin, or aconite powder if available, and stick this little ball of medicine onto the tooth that hurts.

For those inclined towards Homeopathy, which works especially well for children, these are a few classic toothache remedies: Belladonna 6X every 15 minutes until you get to the dentist especially if the pain is accompanied by fever and/or bright red cheeks. Plantago 6X is a good choice if the child feels better when eating, or complains of reflexive pain from the tooth to the eyelids. Mag. Carb. 6X may help if the child seems sensitive to the least bit of touch. Chamomile 6X is the remedy of choice in cases that seem worse from heat.

The good news about toothache is that the tooth can usually be fixed.

Gum disease is more serious, generally more chronic, and not readily responsive to “quick fixes.” Gum disease is caused by infection, and prevention, as always, is the best approach to this disease. Avoid over-eating, avoid excessive stress which may cause nighttime teeth griding (bruxism) and avoid sugary foods and beverages. Gum disease is very common, in fact it is listed as the most prevalent infectious ailment in the United States after the common cold. The rate of infection increases with age; it is a major cause of adult tooth loss. The first stage is gingivitis, or inflammation of the gums, caused by sticky deposits of bacteria, mucus and food particles. These sticky deposits are called “plaque” or may still be referred to by a more outdated term: tartar. The plaque builds up around the teeth and, at the gum line, irritates the gums causing bleeding and ultimately infection. Gingivitis is the medical term for gum infection; pyorrhea means bleeding gums. The accumulation of plaque eventually causes the gums to swell and become infected, widening the gaps between the gum and the tooth, like pockets, which further enhances disease. These “pockets” gather food debris and can become soft, red, shiny and will bleed easily. When gum diseases progresses ad begins to affect the jaw bone, it is called periodontal disease.

All of this can be prevented or improved with physical measures. Foremost is consistent, thoughtful tooth, gum and tongue brushing with a clean, soft brush. Brush the teeth at a 45 degree angle to get under the gum line. Get a new toothbrush regularly (at least 4 times yearly) and make sure your toothpaste isn’t irritating. If you make lots of plaque, consider an alkalinizing toothpaste, such as one containing baking soda. Bacteria prefer an acid environment. The FDA has recently approved the first toothpaste (made by Colgate) that can claim on the label to “prevent gingivitis and plaque” but you probably don’t need drugs in your toothpaste to keep your gums healthy. If you can’t get to your toothbrush soon after eating, at least vigorously swish out your mouth with water. Gum disease is a major cause of bad breath.

The next obvious preventive approaches to gum health are eating nutritious whole foods (not processed), flossing daily and regular dental check-ups. Avoid refined carbohydrates including alcohol and soda pop. Faulty dental fillings and ill-fitting prostheses can also accelerate gum disease by providing sites for plaque accumulation. Sufficient saliva is also critical to clear the mouth of plaque and bacteria. Persons with dry mouth due to age or disease will need to stimulate their salivary glands more vigorously by chewing carrots or sugar-free candies, sipping fluids throughout the day and attempting to breathe through the nose only.

Bacterial plaque is not the only cause of gum disease. A compromised “host” is also a factor in any disease; that is, someone with a poorly functioning immune system due to substance abuse, poor nutrition or poor general hygiene. Smokers suffer from much more rapid gum deterioration than non-smokers — in case you needed just one more reason to quit! Smoking promotes periodontal disease and ultimately tooth loss by doing free radical damage to the cells on the surface of the inside of the mouth. Smoking also drastically reduces Vitamin C stores.

Gum problems which progress from gingivitis to periodontal disease may be a sign of a more systemic condition, such as diabetes mellitus, collagen diseases, leukemia or other disorders of white cell function, anemia, or vitamin deficiency. White patches on the gums or elsewhere on the oral mucous membrane (inside the mouth) that can be scraped off are a sign of fungal infection (thrush) which must be treated, principally by avoiding sugar, antibiotics and steroids (including inhalers) whenever possible. The reason you would want to avoid antibiotics, if possible, in treating gum disease is that they destroy “good” bacteria, which help to break down and digest food, in the mouth as well as along the whole length of the gastrointestinal tract.

Once you have gum disease, what can be done? Luckily, quite a lot, including many non-drug and non-surgical methods. For example, natural bioflavonoids, the molecules that give plants their colors, decrease wound healing time and are useful in treating gum and periodontal disease. Blueberries, hawthorn berries and grapes are all rich sources of flavonoids. Other nutrients which are essential to gum health include CoEnzyme Q-10, Vitamin C and Folic acid. CoEnzyme Q-10, or CoQ-10 for short, is a tiny molecular catalyst in the middle of a series of chemical events called the electron transport chain. These chemical reactions take place in the walls of tiny organs called the mitochondria which, among other functions, convert water into oxygen. CoQ-10 is well known for its role in preventing and treating heart disease, since it provides more oxygen to the tissues at a cellular level, thus reducing the requirements of the heart muscle to pump oxygenated blood around the body. CoQ-10 is essential for treating gum disease because it provides more oxygen to the rapidly turning-over cells of the mucous membranes in the mouth. Oxygen is deadly to anaerobic bacteria, which are the type most likely to damage the gums. (Read the section Dosages For Basic Gum Health Nutrients for recommended dosages of the nutrients discussed below.)

Vitamin C is also critical to gum health, and my favorite “anti-oxidant” for several reasons. First, a word on why, after expounding on the virtues of more oxygen, we now want to provide “anti” oxidant support? Anti-oxidants is a rather unfortunate term and these important nutrients would be more accurately described as “anti-free radicals.” Free radicals are chemical species that possess lone electrons, which is a very unstable chemical state. Lone electrons will do anything to be paired with another electron, including ripping an electron off a perfectly stable structure, thus creating a domino effect of tissue destruction. This is what is known as “free-radical damage,” and is probably the underlying cause of aging. Vitamin C is a large, complex molecule that can “absorb” a free-radical and stop the chain of destruction. Vitamin C is inexpensive (manufacturers never cheat in its production, unlike with Vitamin E), widely available in a variety of forms and generally well tolerated. Some people with very sensitive stomachs need to take a buffered form, rendered a neutral pH with the addition of minerals such as calcium or magnesium.

Another crucial nutrient for gum health is folic acid, or folate. The mucous membrane of the gastrointestinal tract, which starts in the mouth, has the highest rate of cell turnover in the entire body. This is why many chemotherapy drugs, which are geared to “attack” cancer cells that are rapidly dividing, are folic acid inhibitors. People taking chemotherapy drugs will often suffer terribly from sores and blisters in their mouths, and all along the GI tract. Folic acid is essential for normal cell proliferation and the constantly renewing mucous membrane over the gums would not stay healthy without this important B vitamin.

Please give these methods a try, and hopefully surgery and/or antibiotics can be avoided. Now, truthfully, when was the last time you changed your toothbrush?

Dosages For Basic Gum Health Nutrients

 

  • CoQ10, 100 mg daily to increase oxygenation of the blood, which ultimately translates to more “fresh” blood in the mouth, which is highly vascularized.
  • Vitamin C, 4-9 grams daily to promote collagen healing and retard plaque growth. Gums which bleed easily may be a sign of Vit C deficiency.
  • Folic acid, 400 mcg daily to enhance cellular regeneration. Many chemotherapy drugs inhibit folic acid which is why cancer patients on chemo are often plagued with sores on the inside of their mouths.
  • Calcium and Magnesium, 500-1,000 mg of each daily to help prevent bone loss.
  • Vitamin A, 20,000 IUs or the safer, water soluble form of Vit A, Beta-carotene, 10,000 IUs daily to heal mucous membranes in the mouth by providing anti-oxidants and bioflavonoids.
  • Vit E, another potent anti-oxidant, 400 IUs daily to promote skin integrity, including in the mouth. Vit E has a long standing and well-deserved reputation as the “anti-aging” vitamin. Vit E oil can be applied directly to the inflamed gum for rapid healing.
  • Selenium, 200mcg daily, enhances the anti-oxidant effects of Vitamins E and C. It is also a catalyst in nearly 75% of all enzymatic reactions in the body, which means without it we wouldn’t run very well, just like a car without spark plugs.

 

 

Bibliography

  • Murray M and Pizzorno J. Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine, Prima Publishing, Rocklin, CA 1991
  • Carlson KJ, Eisenstat SA, Ziporyn T. The Harvard Guide To Women’s Health. Harvard University Press Reference Library, Cambridge, MA 1996
  • Golan R. Optimal Wellness. Ballantine Books, New York, NY 1995
  • Dean C. Complementary Natural Prescriptions for Common Ailments. Keats Publishing, New Cannan, CT 1994
  • Balch JF and Balch PA. Prescription of Nutritional Healing. Avery Publishing Group, Garden City Park, NY 1997

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