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What Can Happen If You Don’t Check Your Gums Frequently

Scott S. Smith
Publisher, Doctor of Dentistry

There are those dentists who are known to patients and colleagues as The Best. And then there are those who are The Best of the Best. Dr. Elyassi is in the latter category.

And I would know for three reasons. One is that from 2005 to 2009, I was the publisher of a magazine about the top L.A. dentists and I had a chance to get lots of feedback on who the great practitioners of dentistry were. His name always came up as a leader in the profession.

Second, I knew when I first met him that he really cared about patients. I was shocked to hear that 40 percent of his new patients had never had a “perio probe” of their gums to see if there were pockets of infection. The dentists they had previously seen didn’t want to push them to pay a small amount to poke around to gums and find out how serious their condition was. Yet this is what 21st century dentistry is really about: cavities can be filled by anyone, but if you want to avoid losing teeth and having other serious health problems, you need to detect periodontitis, infection of the gums, early. Dr. Elyassi used my magazine to make his colleagues aware of the need to be more proactive in diagnosing and treating this problem.

Third, as much as I thought I knew about dentistry (my aunt was a professor at the UCLA dental school), I really didn’t understand how much effort is required to keep gums and teeth in optimum health. Frankly, like no doubt some of you, I was hoping flossing quickly most nights and brushing for a minute once a day, plus having my teeth cleaned by a hygienist every six months, was enough. I was a busy guy and didn’t want to be distracted by my teeth.

I started taking this more seriously when I ended up losing a couple of them because my gums had become infected and this led to destruction of the bone. It’s a painless disease and it was too late to save these two. Then, I procrastinated for years having an implant done for one and a bridge put over the gap for the other because they weren’t at the front of my mouth and I thought it would just be an unnecessary expense purely for vanity. What I didn’t comprehend was that a lack of a tooth can cause bone underneath to be lost, with serious consequences for the whole mouth. I also began reading about how periodontitis has been linked to a higher risk of many diseases, include cancer and heart disease.

I started paying more attention to my oral hygiene and got a more frequent cleaning. The entire infection didn’t go away, so my dentist of the time suggested inserting antibiotics in pellet form. That helped, but some infection remained and he insisted that I see a periodontist, a specialist in gum disease.

I had resisted the idea because I didn’t want to spend a lot of money on a specialist, so I called Dr. Elyassi for a recommendation who would be both affordable and a really good practitioner who would finally solve my gum problem. I trusted his advice because of his reputation for integrity and knowledge of other practitioners.

He suggested I see Dr. Homan Hanasab, who came into the office once a week. The first thing Dr. Hanasab did was to take a full set of digital x-rays. I was shocked at what I saw: far from my just having just a couple of pockets of infection in the gums, the perio bacteria had eaten into my jaw quite seriously. My prior dentist hadn’t suggested x-rays for the previous couple of years and I didn’t realize how important it was for tracking periodontal disease. I ended up having to undergo two surgeries to stop the erosion and restore my gum health.

I’ve learned that I need to be a lot more vigilant about taking care of my gums, having my teeth professionally cleaned more often, and getting regular x-rays. I also realized that just because you’re under the care of a good general dentist doesn’t mean that you can’t get into big trouble. Now I trust my teeth and gums only to Dr. Elyassi.

 

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