If you have periodontal (gum) disease, you’ve no doubt experienced red and swollen gums. If, however, you notice an especially inflamed area next to a tooth, you may have developed a gum abscess.
An abscess is a pus-filled sac that develops as a result of chronic (long-standing) gum disease, an infection caused by bacterial plaque that’s built up on tooth surfaces from inadequate oral hygiene or from a foreign body (food debris) getting stuck below the gums. The abscess, which typically develops between the tooth and gums, may be accompanied by pain but not always (the affected tooth may also be tender to bite on). Abscesses may grow larger, precipitated by stress or by a general infection like a common cold, and then abate for a time.
As with other abscesses in the body, a gum abscess is treated by relieving the pressure (after numbing the area with local anesthesia) and allowing it to drain. This is often followed by cleaning any infected root surfaces of bacterial plaque and then irrigating the area with a saline and/or antibacterial solution. We may also prescribe antibiotics afterward and some form of pain control (usually a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug like ibuprofen) to help with discomfort.
Although the results of this procedure can be dramatic, it’s just the first step in treating the overall gum disease. After a few days of healing, we continue with a complete examination and recommend further treatment, usually starting with removing bacterial plaque and calculus (hardened plaque deposits), the underlying cause for the infection and inflammation, from all tooth and gum surfaces. This may take several sessions before we begin seeing the gum tissues return to a healthier state.
The key to preventing an abscess recurrence (or any symptom of gum disease) is to remove plaque everyday through proper brushing and flossing, and visiting us twice a year (or more if you’ve developed chronic gum disease) for cleanings and checkups. Doing so will raise your chances of avoiding an uncomfortable and often painful gum abscess in the future.
If you would like more information on gum abscesses, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Periodontal (Gum) Abscesses.”
As the host of America's Funniest Home Videos on ABC TV, Alfonso Ribeiro has witnessed plenty of unintentional physical comedy…or, as he puts it in an interview with Dear Doctor–Dentistry & Oral Health magazine, "When people do stuff and you're like, 'Dude, you just hurt yourself for no reason!'" So when he had his own dental dilemma, Alfonso was determined not to let it turn onto an "epic fail."
The television personality was in his thirties when a painful tooth infection flared up. Instead of ignoring the problem, he took care of it by visiting his dentist, who recommended a root canal procedure. "It's not like you wake up and go, 'Yay, I'm going to have my root canal today!'" he joked. "But once it's done, you couldn't be happier because the pain is gone and you're just smiling because you're no longer in pain!"
Alfonso's experience echoes that of many other people. The root canal procedure is designed to save an infected tooth that otherwise would probably be lost. The infection may start when harmful bacteria from the mouth create a small hole (called a cavity) in the tooth's surface. If left untreated, the decay bacteria continue to eat away at the tooth's structure. Eventually, they can reach the soft pulp tissue, which extends through branching spaces deep inside the tooth called root canals.
Once infection gets a foothold there, it's time for root canal treatment! In this procedure, the area is first numbed; next, a small hole is made in the tooth to give access to the pulp, which contains nerves and blood vessels. The diseased tissue is then carefully removed with tiny instruments, and the canals are disinfected to prevent bacteria from spreading. Finally, the tooth is sealed up to prevent re-infection. Following treatment, a crown (cap) is usually required to restore the tooth's full function and appearance.
Root canal treatment sometimes gets a bad rap from people who are unfamiliar with it, or have come across misinformation on the internet. The truth is, a root canal doesn't cause pain: It relieves pain! The alternatives—having the tooth pulled or leaving the infection untreated—are often much worse.
Having a tooth extracted and replaced can be costly and time consuming…yet a missing tooth that isn't replaced can cause problems for your oral health, nutrition and self-esteem. And an untreated infection doesn't just go away on its own—it continues to smolder in your body, potentially causing serious problems. So if you need a root canal, don't delay!
If you would like additional information on root canal treatment, please contact us or schedule a consultation. You can learn more by reading the Dear Doctor magazine articles “A Step-By-Step Guide to Root Canal Treatment” and “Root Canal Treatment: What You Need to Know.”
You're not just a patient to your dentist—you're also a partner for achieving your best oral health possible. And it takes what both of you do to achieve it.
No doubt your dentist always strives to bring their "A Game" when providing you care. You should carry the same attitude into your personal oral hygiene—to truly master the skill of brushing.
Like its equally important counterpart flossing, brushing isn't mechanically complicated—you need only a minimum of dexterity to perform it. But there are nuances to brushing that could mean the difference between just adequate and super effective.
The goal of both brushing and flossing is to clean the teeth of dental plaque, a built-up film of bacteria and food particles most responsible for dental diseases like tooth decay and periodontal (gum) disease. Brushing removes plaque from the broad front and back surfaces of teeth, while flossing removes it from between teeth where a toothbrush can't reach.
While a lot of cleaning tasks require bearing down with a little "elbow grease," that's unnecessary with brushing—in fact, you may increase your risk of gum recession if you brush too vigorously or too often. All you need is to apply a gentle, circular motion along all tooth surfaces from the gum line to the top of the tooth—a thorough brushing usually takes about two minutes, once or twice a day.
Your equipment is also important. Be sure your toothbrush is soft-bristled, multi-tufted and with a head small enough to maneuver comfortably inside your mouth. Because the bristles wear and eventually lose their effectiveness, change your brush about every three months. And be sure your toothpaste contains fluoride to help strengthen your enamel.
One last tip: while it may sound counterintuitive, don't brush immediately after a meal. Eating increases the mouth's acidity, which can temporarily soften the minerals in tooth enamel. If you brush right away you might slough off tiny bits of softened enamel. Instead, wait an hour before brushing to give your saliva time to neutralize the acid and help re-mineralize your enamel.
Unlike your dentist partner, your role in caring for your teeth doesn't require years of training. But a little extra effort to improve your brushing proficiency could increase your chances for a healthy mouth.
If you would like more information on best practices for personal oral hygiene, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “10 Tips for Daily Oral Care at Home.”
Dairy foods have played a role in human diets for thousands of years. More than one kid—whether millennia ago on the Mesopotamian plains or today in an American suburb—has been told to drink their milk to grow strong. This is because milk and other dairy products contain vitamins and minerals that are essential for a healthy body, including healthy teeth and gums. In honor of National Dairy Month in June, here are four ways dairy boosts your oral health:
Dental-friendly vitamins, minerals and proteins. Dairy products are an excellent source of many vitamins and minerals that are important for good dental health. They are packed with calcium and phosphorus, two minerals that work together to strengthen tooth enamel. In addition to the vitamins they contain naturally, milk and yogurt are fortified with vitamin D, which aids in calcium and phosphorus absorption; cheese contains a small amount of vitamin D naturally. What's more, dairy proteins have been shown to prevent or reduce the erosion of tooth enamel and strengthen the connective tissues that hold teeth in place.
Lactose: a more tooth-friendly sugar. Sugars like sucrose or high fructose corn syrup, which are routinely added to processed foods, are a primary trigger for tooth decay. This is because certain oral bacteria consume sugar, producing acid as a by-product. The acid weakens tooth enamel, eventually resulting in cavities. Dairy products—at least those without added sugar—are naturally low in sugar, and the sugar they contain, lactose, results in less acid production than other common sugars.
The decay-busting power of cheese. We know that high acidity in the mouth is a major factor in decay development. But cheese is low in acidity, and a quick bite of it right after eating a sugary snack could help raise the mouth's pH out of the danger zone. Cheeses are also rich in calcium, which could help preserve that important mineral's balance in tooth enamel.
Dairy for gum health. A study published in the Journal of Periodontology found that people who regularly consumed dairy products had a lower incidence of gum disease than those who did not. And since gum health is related to the overall health, it's important to do all we can to prevent and manage gum disease.
For those who cannot or choose not to consume dairy products, there are other foods that supply calcium naturally, such as beans, nuts and leafy greens—and many other foods are fortified with calcium, vitamin D and other nutrients. It may be wise to take a multivitamin or calcium with vitamin D as a supplement as well.
If you would like more information about nutrition and oral health, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Nutrition & Oral Health” and “How to Help Your Child Develop the Best Habits for Oral Health.”
There is a primary principle dentists follow regarding tooth decay—treat it as soon as you find it. Something as simple and routine as filling a cavity could prevent future tooth loss.
But treating a cavity at or below the gum line could be anything but simple and routine. Older adults who may also be dealing with gum recession are more likely to have these kinds of cavities where the gums block clear access to it.
But there is a way to access gum-covered cavities with a minor surgical procedure known as crown lengthening. Crown lengthening is commonly used in cosmetic dentistry to expose more of the visible teeth when there's an overabundance of gum tissue or if the teeth are disproportionately small. We can use it in this instance to surgically relocate the blocking gum tissue out of the way of the cavity.
After numbing the area with local anesthesia, tiny incisions will be made in the gums to create a tissue flap. After reshaping the underlying bone to recreate normal anatomy but at a different level, this flap is then moved and sutured to a new position. This exposes enough tooth structure so that the cavity can be repaired after gum healing.
As with any minor surgery, there's a very slight risk of bleeding and/or infection with crown lengthening. If you undergo this procedure, you'll receive post-care instructions for the first few days afterward including avoiding strenuous activities, eating only soft foods and using an ice pack the day of surgery to help control swelling.
This versatile procedure can help save a tooth that might otherwise be lost due to decay. And, it might even improve your appearance.
If you would like more information on treatment options for tooth decay, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Crown Lengthening: This Common Surgical Procedure Restores Function and Improves Appearance.”
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