That velvety, pink tissue that overlays the upper and lower jawbone gingerly embracing the teeth is known as the gums. This wonderful tissue is not dumb—it knows exactly what it needs to remain healthy.
Halloween is over, yet the concentrations of sugar demons still raise their ugly heads in children’s mouths, causing gum disease and decayed teeth. When I was a kid, I often put a penny in the gumball machine at Mr. Goodman’s candy store located on the corner of my block in Brooklyn. Little did I know that my gums weren’t happy to be bathed in a solution of sugar and a host of chemicals from those brightly colored balls of sweetness. I am sure that I was having a ball, but my gums, to say the least, were not enjoying it.
To stay healthy, gums need many nutrients. My South Carolinian grandmother used to prepare a dish known as gumbo (gum-bo). In that savory dish were many vegetables containing nutrients that ensured good, healthy gums. Here’s a recipe that’s good for you and your gums:
Luscious yellow corn contains an ample amount of beta-carotene, vitamin B1 (thiamin), and a host of other minerals.
Lima beans loaded with folate, iron, vitamin B1 and many phytochemicals that ward off cancer. And, my Lord, don’t forget…
Onions that give the gumbo flavor and are full of vitamin C and vitamin A.
Wonderful green and red peppers make the gumbo jump with vitamin C and beta-carotene, an anti-oxidant that wards off cancer.
Tomatoes to give the gumbo some oomph. They add not only flavor but also a chemical known as lycopene, which is a powerful anti-oxidant and protects not only gums but also the prostate. This wonderful red fruit is loaded with vitamin C, A, and potassium. And last, but not least…
Plenty of garlic, which lowers cholesterol and contains many natural antibiotics that kill germs that can cause gingivitis (gum disease).

After simmering all these delicious vegetables and herbs, my grandmother sometimes added shrimp. The protein from this sea animal ensured good healthy gums. But gumbo is not the only way to prevent gum disease. Here are some other ways to keep your gums healthy:
• Brush and massage your gums daily with your toothbrush to rid them of plaque and other debris.
• Eat a raw vegetable daily.
• Be careful not to work around toxic chemicals. If you can taste the chemicals, you can be sure that it is in your mouth and doing damage.
• Rinse daily with the following solutions: sodium bicarbonate (1 teaspoon in 6 ounces of water). A mixture of hydrogen peroxide and water mixed equally. One half teaspoon of salt in 6 ounces of water. Use these solutions one at a time following each other.
• Reduce the amount of sugar-laden foods in your diet. (The average person drinks 450 cans of soda a year—that’s not healthy.)
• Alcohol and smoking are dangerous to gums.
• Avoid mouthwashes with high alcohol content.

Just remember, gums are smarter than you think and will enjoy good health if you don’t gum them up with bad habits and poor choices. And don’t forget to go to the dentist for annual checkups and cleanings.

Unfortunately, the dental profession is lacking enough African American dentists to practice in underserved communities. New York University College of Dentistry has established the Gerald W. Deas Scholarship, which provides $100 thousand toward a dental education for students who meet the academic and financial need requirements. For further information, call my office at SUNY Downstate Medical Center, 718-270-4735.

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