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Question: “My dentist says that I need a “special cleaning” with anesthetic because I have gum disease. Is this really necessary?”

Answer: Dentists and hygienists are trained to recognize the signs and symptoms of gum disease. Unfortunately, approximately seventy-five percent of American adults have some level of gum disease. This chronic problem is the number one reason for tooth loss in the United States, and bleeding of the gums is one of the most common indicators of some level of gum disease.

It can range from a low-level, chronic infection to severe periodontitis, which shows the destruction of the bone that supports teeth. Additionally, an increasing number of studies show a significant correlation between the bacteria in gum disease and health problems that can affect the entire body.

Another disturbing revelation is that these bacteria can be transferred from one person to another through kissing, sharing toothbrushes, etc. Parents can even transmit bacteria from their own mouths to their children by drinking from the same glass.

The disease-causing bacteria from one’s mouth can enter the bloodstream, circulate throughout the body, and create or exacerbate health problems. Disorders such as heart disease, Alzheimer’s, respiratory diseases, diabetes, arthritis, and low birth-weight babies are just a few that have been linked to gum disease. This list seems to be growing as research continues in this area.

Obviously, the first step in avoiding this pervasive condition is to diligently brush and floss your teeth every day. This decreases the likelihood of bacterial proliferation in your mouth. Make sure that your spouse or “significant other” is doing the same. Regular, professional cleaning in a dental office is also essential.

If you suffer from symptoms including bleeding when you brush or floss, persistent bad breath, or red, swollen gums, you need to contact a dentist or periodontist who can help you overcome this problem. The help of a dental hygienist or dentist is necessary because we cannot remove hard deposits (tartar) on our own. The longer these conditions persist, the more likely you are to develop one of the aforementioned health conditions.

Dr. Jim Arnold is a practicing dentist in Valparaiso and Chesterton. Additionally, he serves on the Advisory Board for the Academy of Comprehensive Esthetics and is involved with many other local, state, national, and international dental organizations. Questions for Dr. Arnold can be emailed to or sent to 1830 South 11th St., Chesterton, IN, 46304. More information on this and a variety of other dental topics can be found at