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Sensitive Gums

Why do I have Sensitive Gums?

Question

After a long period of stress, I was diagnosed with lichen planus, which affects my gums and the lining of my mouth. Now, almost ten years later, my life is calmer but I still suffer from this complaint. I have been advised to replace my mercury fillings and was told that my symptoms may be related to food allergies. I have a feeling that my regular toothpaste may not be helping.

Answer

Lichen planus affects either the skin or, as in your case the mouth, when it's known as oral lichen planus. Sometimes people suffer from both, so you may develop lichen planus on the skin, even after this extended time. Many people suffer from the condition for years.

On the skin, lichen planus appears as small, raised, flat-topped lesions, which are pinkish-purple, shiny and may be covered with a network of fine white lines. They can be intensely itchy. In the mouth, the patches are white, often with a lacy pattern. Mostly, they are painless but sometimes they develop into persistent and very painful ulcers.

The skin consists of several layers of tissue, composed of cells. These cells multiply in the deeper layers, and the skin renews itself (our bodies are in a perpetual state of repair and renewal) by peeling off the outer layer, which is made up of dead cells. The structure of the skin is like an onion, with the outer layer (the stratum corneum, or horny layer) dead and the inner layers soft and juicy. In the mouth, the outer layer actually consist of live cells, but these, too, peel off very easily.

The plaques of lichen planus are formed by a process called keratinisation an overproduction of the cells called keratinocytes (‘keras' meaning horn, and 'cytes' being cells) that form the stratum corneum. Often there is no obvious reason for lichen planus, although stress is a known factor (more frequently when it affects the skin), and it's linked to an adverse reaction to some pharmaceutical drugs. As you suggest, oral lichen planus can also be triggered by amalgam mercury fillings in the teeth. It can also be pan of an autoimmune reaction where the body develops an "allergy" to its own tissue, for no known reason.

Keratinisation can, in my experience, develop into a more serious and aggressive condition, where fragments of keratin and keratohyalin, a fibre-like protein, combine to form shards that emerge spontaneously from the skin all over the body. (However, I am not suggesting this will happen to you.)

Improving your general health is important, and you should try not to probe the affected areas with your tongue, as friction can make them worse. To boost your overall health, I suggest consulting my book The Integrated Health Bible. Which contains an MOT to enable you to assess your health.

Here are my other suggestions:

  • Take asafoetida (hing), a herbal resin used as a condiment in the East and available in Oriental or Asian grocery shops. It helps to regulate the immune system, improve enerty and assist the healing of chronic ailments. Add a pinch to a half-teaspoonful of manuka honey and a half-teaspoonful of kolonji oil, and take this daily for two months.
  • If you decide to have your amalgam fillings removed, please consult a dentist with proven expertise in this field. I see no connection with toothpaste (although I understand that conventional toothpaste can trigger mouth ulcers in some people).
  • Improve your digestion by avoiding yeast products, citrus fruits and sour.-tasting fruits and vegetables (such as rhubarb), as well as alcohol, coffee, excess sugar, fried or spicy foods, canned products and processed foods. Instead, eat organic foods and lots of non-citrus fruits and vegetables, such as apples, cherries, pomegranates, avocados, ginger, cooked garlic, celery broccoli, spinach, alfalfa sprouts, live yoghurt, almonds (soaked in room-temperature water for 24 hours). saffron and manuka honey. Food allergies or sensitivities will, in general, impair your health, so avoid foods that don’t suit you.
  • As an alternative therapy, homoeopathy can be effective.
  • Massage is very healing and will help eliminate fatigue, stress, aches and pains: ask a partner or family member to massage your neck shoulders and back once a week and have professional massage once or twice a month if you can. There are details of the technique on my Lifestyle DVD (Integrated Health Group,), which also gives basic instruction on exercise and relaxation through breathing and contemplation. You could walk and dance, too, both of which are relaxing.
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