By Alvin H. Danenberg, DDS
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported in 2012 that 47.2% of the US adult population had periodontitis, and the prevalence jumped to 70.1% for adults 65 years old and beyond. I am talking about periodontitis, which is the more advanced stage of gum disease where jawbone is being destroyed, and infection can spread throughout the body. The statistics would be even larger if I were talking about gingivitis, which is a reversible, more common, and early stage of gum disease. The study that was published was the most complete periodontal evaluation ever reported on a national scale.
The facts are that periodontitis, gingivitis, and tooth decay have not always been a problem. If you take a much broader look, you will get a much clearer picture by going back to our primal ancestors.
Our human species has been evolving for about 2.5 million years. Our primal ancestors did not have toothbrushes, or dental floss, or added-fluoride in their water supply. Obviously, they did not see a dentist every six months, yet they hardly ever had gum disease or tooth decay until about 10,000 years ago. What caused the prevalence of periodontitis to jump from practically 0% before 10,000 years ago to 70% today?
Researchers today have done some amazing things. They not only have uncovered skeletal remains of our Primal ancestors, but they also have developed DNA tests that can identify the types of bacteria in the ancient remnants of dental calculus.
The dental remains from 20,000 to 10,000 years ago demonstrated minimal decay and minimal periodontitis, but there was much bacterial diversity in the dental calculus. Interestingly, these bacteria were not virulent and were in a state of homeostasis. Then, about 10,000 years ago, the dental remains began to demonstrate increasing signs of decay and alveolar bone loss. The bacteria became more virulent. About 170 years ago, the prevalence of these diseases exploded and the bacteria became skewed to very unhealthy types. The question again is, “What Happens and Why?”
Questioning what we think we know
We really don’t know the entire etiology of tooth decay or periodontal disease or cardiovascular disease or any other chronic disease. We may have some ideas, but are they correct?
“It ain’t so much the things we don’t know that get us into trouble. It’s the things we know that just ain’t so.” Josh Billings (Henry Wheeler Shaw), 19th Century humorist
It is difficult to arrive at accurate answers because there is so much we don’t know. Sometimes, what we think we know gets redefined and proven wrong. And then, there is a vast amount that we don’t know that we don’t know!
It’s not just in our genes.
There is a science called Epigenetics. It is the study of environmental factors influencing our genetic expression. Over 90% of all chronic disease today is related to either what we put into our bodies that should not be ingested, or what we need to put into our bodies that we don’t. That is a very strong statement, and most of the medical profession does not know this or does not know its implications. The answers to the question “What happens and why?” lie in this concept.