By Karen Muñoz Solórzano
Treating oral diseases with natural remedies is on the rise, and I’m not talking about family recipes that, by trial and error, were passed down from generation to generation.
On account of promising research and the ever-growing resistance of bacteria to traditional antibiotics, doctors are now turning to probiotics. These are living microorganisms with health benefits, and the hope is that they can prevent and treat oral conditions such as periodontal (gum) disease.
Periodontal disease is an infection of the gum but also of the bone surrounding the teeth. When mouth bacteria, which along with mucus and other particles form a plaque, are not removed for too long they can go underneath the gum and eat out the bone. This can eventually result in the loss of a tooth.
But even if we constantly and thoroughly clean our mouths, and have regular visits to the dentist, some people end up getting gum disease anyway, due to a genetic predisposition.
It gets worse: the American Academy of Periodontology and the Centers for Disease Control have found that nearly half of US adults, aged 30 or older, suffer from some kind of periodontal disease.
Knowing the full range of options for treating this problem can be a life-saving opportunity, given the link to heart disease. And with dental care costs in the United States going through the roof, it may be worthwhile looking beyond her borders.
In recent years, Guatemala has become a favored destination for those seeking high-quality, affordable dental care, and also innovation. Ana Lucía Godinez, a Guatemalan dentist and graduate of Francisco Marroquín University, shared her thoughts about this new treatment with Antigua Report.
How is gum disease usually treated?
It depends on how serious it is. In some cases, treatment may consist of a
deep cleaning known as scaling, and root planing, which involves removing the plaque
and other factors that are causing tissue inflammation.
In more critical cases, surgery is required. But the most important thing is to prevent the onset,
progression, and recurrence, by maintaining appropriate oral hygiene.
What are probiotics, and how can they help treat oral diseases?
According to the World Health Organization, probiotics are live microorganisms that, when administered in adequate amounts, are beneficial to the host’s health. It is estimated that one milliliter of saliva contains around 100 million bacteria from 600 different species.
The goal in periodontal disease treatment is to eliminate bacteria and bacterial deposits above and bellow the gum line.
Not all bacteria cause gum disease. Research indicates that if we add probiotics to the oral environment, they reduce the growth of pathogenic bacteria that do cause it.
How did dentists come up with the idea of putting living organisms inside people’s mouths?
Dentists have started paying attention to probiotics due to other health benefits uncovered in recent years. Since our mouths are full of bacteria, which cause many oral diseases, the probiotic approach aims to strike the proper balance between the bacteria that live in the oral cavity.
How effective is this therapy compared to more traditional methods?
Periodontal disease is caused, for the most part, by existing bacteria in the plaque. However, we must also take into account that there are genetic and environmental factors that play an important role, such as smoking, pregnancy, hormonal changes, poor diet, crowding of teeth, intake of processed food, other illnesses such as diabetes, and some medication.
Most importantly, people must remember that dental hygiene is paramount to the success of periodontal-disease therapy.
As for the effectiveness of probiotics, no long-term studies have been carried out yet about how well they can treat periodontal disease or other oral cavity diseases. So far the results of other studies suggest that they can be a complementary therapy, especially for those with greater genetic predispositions to gum disease. More research is definitely warranted.
In Guatemala probiotics were introduced only recently, so I still cannot draw any conclusions about the success rate of such treatments compared to traditional ones.
Are there any risks associated with this treatment?
Probiotics are quite safe when used for other health issues, so we expect them to be equally safe in dental treatments. But as I said earlier, more studies still need to be conducted.
What are the advantages of getting dental care in Guatemala?
In addition to all her beautiful attractions, Guatemala has state-of-the-art medical technology and expertise. There are good professionals who provide excellent services at affordable rates. Prices can be significantly lower in Guatemala than in the patients’ own countries.
Godínez is right: in 2017, according to trade union AGEXPORT, Guatemala provided medical services worth US$75 million, a 12.5 percent increase compared to 2016. Dentistry, ophthalmology, neuronal and vascular treatments, and spa treatments were the most sought-after services.
Guatemala’s medical tourism is a success story as evidenced by the patients coming from Canada, United States, southern Mexico, and Central America, attracted by internationally certified professionals who charge 35 to 80 percent less than do professionals in the United States.
Still, Godínez offers this piece of advice: “You need to look for trained and certified personnel. Contact the professional, ask for references, and do some research before making a decision.”
Karen Muñoz Solórzano is a longtime English teacher based in Cali, Colombia, who specializes in curriculum strategies for children and young adults.