Word of Appreciation

Updated: 02/25/2011

Only You Can Take Control of Your Mouth

By Sheila Wolf, RDH (AKA "Mama Gums")

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 years.

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 more surgery.

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 expertise.

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 bacteria-killing agent.

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 “BIO”

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. 

Sheila will happily share her articles with you. Please acknowledge her contribution by including her “Bio” at the end of the article.

Mama Gums