JIS News

Taking care of your oral health isn’t just about a pretty smile. It has implications for overall health and is, therefore, a significant public health problem. One common dental condition that quietly affects Jamaicans and persons the world over is gingivitis.
Director of Dental Health Services in the Ministry of Health (MoH), Dr. Irving McKenzie, explains this condition as “inflammation of the gum, which most times, is easily identified by swelling and bleeding and mild to moderate irritation of the gum line.”
He notes that these symptoms are frequently ignored, as most persons consider bleeding gums as quite normal.
“It is said to result more often than not from inadequate brushing and flossing, but may result from medical disorders or the use of certain drugs,” Dr. McKenzie explains.
The MoH Dental Health emphasises that people need to attach the same degree of urgency to gingivitis, as they do other physical ailments. The surface area of our oral cavity, he explains, is actually equivalent to the total surface areas of the palms of the hands.
“If persons were to have bleeding, as that associated with gingivitis on any visible body part, most would have gone to the doctor, immediately,” he points out.
“But, I guess because of the fact that it is painless, it is in your mouth and not seen by others, it may give patients a level of security and they may think there is no need for alarm,” he added.
How can one get gingivitis? Dr. McKenzie says that, in most cases, it is of a bacterial origin. While there are instances where the etiology of this oral condition may be unknown, this is true for less than 2 per cent of the cases.
“It is also as a result of the impact of bacteria in the bacterial film that is formed on the tooth. If you don’t brush or floss properly, that plaque would calcify and become calculus or tartar. The microorganisms in these do have an impact on the gum line,” he explains.
“If you are eating a lot of food and not practising good oral health and the food goes within the areas of the free gingival margins and bacteria feed on it, it will help to produce that kind of condition,” he adds.
Sometimes hormonal changes in the body during pregnancy may cause what is referred to as pregnancy induced gingivitis. Some pregnant women are said to unknowingly contribute to this problem, by neglecting proper oral hygiene during this period, because they sometimes feel nauseous in the morning.
“If it is pregnancy induced, we always encourage pregnant ladies to visit their dentist in the second trimester, since pregnancy predisposes them to various oral conditions,” he informs.
There is also drug induced gingivitis which, Dr. McKenzie notes, may be caused through intake of certain medications used to treat other illnesses. Many smokers are also affected by this condition.
“We believe that good oral health actually begins in the uterus. The mother to be should meet with her dental care provider somewhere in the second trimester, so that she can also get tips on how to enhance oral health,” he notes.
Dr. McKenzie is also reminding persons of the inextricable link between good oral health and overall wellness.Citing studies, which show a strong correlation between peridontal gum disease, heart disease and stroke.
“There are many systemic diseases that have oral manifestations and many oral diseases that have systemic manifestations, so the care of your mouth is very important,” he says.
“There is a relationship between peridontitis and other diseases such as diabetes. Diabetes complicates peridontitis and vice versa. Diabetics are usually predisposed to certain kinds of inflammatory conditions,” he adds.
Treatment If left untreated, gingivitis may progress to periodontitis, a more severe gum disease that can result in tooth loss. This chronic inflammatory condition otherwise known as periodontal disease can do more than harm the gums and the structures that support the teeth.
“For periodontal gum disease you move from a situation of clinical attachment loss, bone loss, you may have bleeding, pus, and ultimately you may lose so much bone that you have pathological mobility, where you have the teeth standing out of your gum,” he adds.
Both gingivitis and periodontal gum diseases are very prevalent in Jamaica, Dr. McKenzie states.
However, according to the Director, in most cases, gingivitis is reversible.
“If it is a result of poor oral hygiene, after taking the patient’s history, the patient may be put on dental prophylaxis and the dental health provider may give further instructions on how to brush, floss or achieve good oral health,” he points out.
Proper dental care requires healthy lifestyle practices, says, the oral health professional.
“It starts with brushing properly, which helps to reduce the bacteria load. The mouth is actually one of the dirtiest parts of the body. There are a lot of bacteria living in the mouth. When you brush, you brush to remove substrate on which some of the bacteria feed that would cause plaque and tartar,” he notes.
He recommends that persons with gingivitis visit their dentist where they will be placed on a plaque control programme, noting, “this means regular brushing and flossing and visiting your dentist on a regular basis.”
For persons without chronic illnesses or other ailments, Dr. McKenzie recommends that they visit their dentists every six months.
“For persons with diabetes or other systemic problems or those other adverse oral health condition may need to visit the dentist more regularly,” he advises.
“If you haven’t been to the dentist in a long time, get your mouth checked. Know what your oral health status is and you can begin to smile again,” he urges.
October 31 brings the curtains down on a month of national and community- based activities held in observation of Oral Health Month. The area of focus varied for different dental groups. The ageing population was the focus of the Jamaica Dental Association, which hosted activities based on the theme, “Maturing Gracefully, Maintaining that Youthful Smile”.
The Ministry of Health’s activities were centred on the adolescent cohort, while Colgate Palmolive had as its theme, “Healthy Mouth: Healthy Lives.”

Skip to content