Only You Can Take Control of Your
By Sheila Wolf, RDH (AKA
I remember it like it was only yesterday: It
was raining heavily that crisp fall day when I first stepped
into the hallowed hallways of Fones School of Dental Hygiene
in September of 1971. As with so many other young independent
women of my generation, I was about to embark on a career
of my own. A career that I never expected would last for thirty-two
It is with pride and awe that I share with you
here my experiences of those eventful years and my
unique perspective of treating gum disease non-surgically.
The field of dentistry has known many changes in the last
thirty-one years, not the least of which has had to do with
bacteria. I began my career before OSHA, when everything
in the dental operatory was considered "acceptable" as long
as it was "kitchen clean."
I started my profession in one of the first
periodontal practices in New Haven, Connecticut. It was a
prestigious office where I worked for two periodontal surgeons
who also taught at Yale University. I am proud to say that
they had very high standards of care and I felt privileged
to be associated with them.
At that time, periodontal surgery was the only
option we knew how to perform for people who suffered from
this tooth threatening gum disease. Despite the archaic modes
of treatment (by today's medical advances) patients got healthier
for a time after surgery, and then, those who were not compliant
with their home care routines eventually but inevitably slipped
back into an infected state -- and often had to have even
It was widely acknowledged back then, as it
had been for many years, that periodontal disease came from
the hardened tartar on the teeth. Naturally, as hygienists,
we worked fast and furiously to remove every last tiny bit
of it. I remember scaling down tartar so long, removing layers
of cementum along with the calculus, that I became uncomfortable
enough with the process to ask my boss, "How do I know when
I have scaled enough?" He assured me that I would eventually
get a sense of it and would instinctively know when to stop.
He was a periodontal surgeon, and I respected him for his
Thirty plus years later, I no longer scale the
heck out of a tooth in order to remove every last microscopic
bit of deposit. I have learned, firstly, that doing so is
an impossible task. Secondly, I now understand that it is
only by removing the cause of the infection, the specific
bacteria that are responsible for gum disease, can we be successful
in eliminating these insidious infections. It is not only
important to mechanically clean the teeth and gums but it
is equally important to chemically disinfect them with a potent
Part of my therapy is to deposit anti-infective
medications such as Clorhexidine solution or TherasolŪ, under
the gum-line. Just as important is to teach my patients to
do the same in their simple, daily, self-care program using
an irrigator, such as a Water-PikŪ as the delivery system.
Baking soda, Hydrogen peroxide and salt are also powerful
weapons against these specific organisms.
I am confident (if I have done my job well)
that a patient who has been properly inspired, educated, and
trained in the mechanics and chemistry of oral hygiene, will
effectively clean his/her own mouth every single day, not
only contributing to a healthier mouth, but also enhancing
the quality and longevity of their life.
Sheila Wolf, RDH, affectionately called Mama Gums, has been a registered dental hygienist since 1971. She is currently retired from clinical practice but enjoys writing, speaking, and consulting on various oral health issues. She has authored two award-winning books, Pregnancy and Oral Health: The critical connection between your mouth and your baby, and Your Mouth Could Be KILLING You. Both are available on her website, http://www.mamagums.com/about_book.html, through Amazon, and at finer bookstores everywhere. Sheila also works with people privately as an oral wellness coach, educating and empowering people to keep their natural teeth for a lifetime, avoid gum surgery, and just possibly add years to their lives. You may reach Sheila through her website, www.mamagums.com or in San Diego at 866-MAMA-GUMs.
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