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Survivors may have 32 endangered species living in their mouths

March 18, 2001

Chicago - Crocodiles, poisonous snakes and the scorching sun are not the only things the Survivors have to fear. Neglected oral hygiene may also put the survival of their teeth at jeopardy, as well as increase the risk that an infection in their mouth could spread and put other parts of their body at peril.

Early in the game, Survivor's Kucha tribe won a reward challenge that included in the prize toothbrushes and toothpaste. The other Survivor contestants' lack of oral hygiene and their soft diet with little nutritional value could cause periodontal problems to flare up. Bacterial plaque, a sticky, colorless substance that forms on the teeth constantly, can turn into a hard substance called calculus in less than two days. If calculus develops below the gums onto the tooth root, it can irritate the gums, causing infection.

A Journal of Periodontology study followed a group of 15 third-year dental students who gave up oral hygiene activities for 21 days to monitor the effects on their oral health. By day 21, all subjects exhibited signs of gingivitis, including plaque and overt clinical inflammation. The toxins produced by gingival infections can destroy the supporting tissues around the teeth, including the bone. When this happens, gums separate from the teeth, forming pockets that will fill with even more plaque and infection. As the disease progresses, these pockets deepen, more gum tissue and bone are destroyed and the teeth eventually become loose. In addition to being a major cause of tooth loss, periodontal disease has been linked to serious health threats such as heart attacks, diabetes and preterm births.

"While most people don't have to worry about not being able to brush their teeth for several days, they should understand that plaque, when not removed, can harden to the point it can only be removed during a professional cleaning after only a day or two," said Michael McGuire, D.D.S., president of the American Academy of Periodontology (AAP). "When people don't floss daily, plaque builds between the teeth, and periodontal disease often begins between teeth where a toothbrush can't reach."

One possibility for people without access to toothbrushes and floss may be to chew on sticks. Dental researchers have studied the periodontal status of Sudanese populations who use Miswak chewing sticks and found that their periodontal health status was comparable to Sudanese toothbrush users.
A free brochure titled Spread the Word: Periodontal Care Is For Everyone or a referral to a periodontist is available by calling 1-800-FLOSS-EM, or visit the AAP's Web site at The American Academy of Periodontology is a 7,500-member association of dental professionals specializing in the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of diseases affecting the gums and supporting structures of the teeth and in the placement and maintenance of dental implants. Periodontics is one of nine dental specialties recognized by the American Dental Association.

American Academy of Periodontology

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