February is Gum Disease Awareness Month, and we heartily agree that gums deserve their own month of special recognition. After all, they play an essential role keeping teeth securely in place, and their network of tiny blood vessels supplies important nutrients and disease-fighting agents that teeth depend on. Yet gum disease affects nearly 50% of people over age 30 and 70% of those aged 65 and older, making it the most common chronic inflammatory disease among adults.
Gum disease starts with the thin buildup of bacteria and food particles called plaque. When plaque spreads below the gum line, the gums can become inflamed, resulting in a mild stage of gum disease called gingivitis, which often goes undetected. If not treated, it can progress to a more serious form called periodontitis, which can break down the gums and underlying bone, causing teeth to become loose or even fall out. In fact, periodontitis is the number one cause of tooth loss in adults—and its effects can range beyond the mouth. Periodontitis is linked to many other health conditions, including diabetes, heart disease, respiratory ailments and Alzheimer's disease, among others.
The good news is that gum disease is usually preventable through good oral hygiene and, when caught in its early stages, reversible. To take the best care of your gums, follow these tips:
- Look out for signs of gum disease. Some signs include red, puffy or tender gums, gums that bleed when you brush and floss, gums that recede or separate from the teeth, teeth that are loose or shifting, and persistent bad breath or a persistent bad taste in your mouth.
- Make good dental hygiene a daily habit. To keep dental plaque at bay, brush your teeth morning and night with fluoride toothpaste, and floss once a day.
- Keep up with regular dental visits. It is especially important to come in at least twice a year for checkups and professional cleanings if you have gum disease or another systemic health condition like diabetes.
- Quit tobacco. Smoking, vaping and chewing tobacco are major risk factors for gum disease and certain cancers. When it comes to quitting, you may think “easier said than done.” While we realize it's hard to quit, we also know it's doable and the rewards are priceless.
- Eat a healthy diet. Scientific studies have found that a diet low in refined carbohydrates and rich in whole grains, Omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins C and D, antioxidants and fiber can help control gum disease by reducing inflammation in the body.
Being aware of early gum disease symptoms and taking steps to maintain good oral health can lead to better gum health as well as better overall health.
If you would like more information about gum disease prevention and treatment, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine article “How Gum Disease Gets Started.”
Enamel is the hardest substance in the human body, and for good reason—it's your teeth's first line of defense against wearing and harmful oral bacteria. But although enamel can “take a licking and keep on ticking,” it can lose its mineral content, soften and eventually erode to expose the teeth to bacteria.
Here are 4 tips for protecting your enamel so it keeps on protecting you.
Practice sound brushing techniques. Brushing is necessary for removing bacterial plaque that can trigger dental disease. But how you brush could prove not only ineffective, but also harmful to your enamel. So, be sure you're brushing all tooth surfaces, but not too forcefully or too often (twice a day is enough)—otherwise, you could wear down enamel and damage your gums.
Wait to brush after eating. The acid levels in the mouth go up during eating, causing an immediate softening of enamel. But saliva then goes to work neutralizing acid and helping to restore enamel's mineral content. Since it takes saliva about thirty minutes to an hour to complete this task, wait on brushing at least that long. Otherwise, you might remove tiny traces of temporarily softened enamel.
Avoid eating right before bed. While we sleep, our saliva flow decreases until we wake up. If you eat just before bed, you may not be giving your saliva enough time to neutralize acid before it “goes to sleep” with you for the night. So, give your saliva ample time to neutralize any remaining acid by not eating anymore at least an hour before you turn in.
Limit drinking acidic beverages. Some of our favorite drinks—sodas, energy and sports drinks, and even some juices—can be high in acid. To protect your enamel, reduce your consumption of these types of beverages in favor of water or milk (the calcium in the latter will also benefit your enamel). When you do drink acidic beverages, use a straw to minimize contact of the fluid with your enamel.
Healthy and strong enamel is the key to healthy and strong teeth. It's worth taking these steps to protect this important defense against destructive tooth decay.
If you would like more information on personal dental care, 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 “6 Tips to Help Prevent the Erosion of Tooth Enamel.”
Remembered fondly by fans as the wacky but loveable Carlton on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Alfonso Ribeiro is currently in his fifth year hosting America's Funniest Videos. It's the perfect gig for the 48-year-old actor, who loves to laugh and make others laugh as well. This is quite the opposite experience from one he had a few years ago that he remembers all too well: a severely decayed tooth.
After seeing his dentist for an intense toothache, Ribeiro learned he had advanced tooth decay and would need root canal treatment. Ribeiro wasn't thrilled by the news. Like many of us, he thought the procedure would be unpleasant. But he found afterward that not only was the root canal painless, his toothache had vanished.
More importantly, the root canal treatment saved his tooth, as it has for millions of others over the last century. If you're facing a situation similar to Alfonso Ribeiro's, here's a quick look at the procedure that could rescue your endangered tooth.
Getting ready. In preparation for root canal therapy, the tooth and surrounding gums are numbed, often first with a swab of local anesthesia to deaden the surface area in preparation for the injection of the main anesthesia below the surface. A dental dam is then placed to isolate the infected tooth from its neighbors to prevent cross-contamination.
Accessing the interior. To get to the infection, a small access hole is drilled. The location depends on the tooth: in larger back teeth, a hole is drilled through the biting surface, and in front teeth, a hole is drilled on the backside. This access allows us to insert special tools to accomplish the next steps in the procedure.
Cleaning, shaping and filling. Small tools are used to remove the diseased tissue from the interior tooth pulp and root canals. Then the empty spaces are disinfected. This, in effect, stops the infection. Next, the root canals inside the tooth are shaped to allow them to better accept a special filling called gutta percha. The access hole is then sealed to further protect the tooth from future infection, and a temporary crown is placed.
A new crown to boot. Within a couple weeks, we'll cap the tooth with a long-lasting lifelike crown (or a filling on certain teeth). This adds further protection for the tooth against infection, helps strengthen the tooth's structure, and restores the tooth's appearance.
Without this procedure, the chances of a tooth surviving this level of advanced decay are very slim. But undergoing a root canal, as Alfonso Ribeiro did, can give your tooth a real fighting chance.
If you would like more information about root canal treatments, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “A Step-By-Step Guide to Root Canal Treatment” and “Root Canal Treatment: How Long Will It Last?”
Your child has had braces for a few months and making good progress with correcting a poor bite (malocclusion), but you’ve also noticed something else: his gums are becoming red and swollen.
These are symptoms of gingivitis, a periodontal (gum) disease. It’s an infection that arises when plaque, a thin film of bacteria and food particles, isn’t adequately removed from teeth with daily brushing and flossing. The braces increase the risk for gingivitis.
This is because the hardware — metal or plastic brackets cemented to the teeth and joined together by metal bands — makes it more difficult to reach many areas of the teeth with a brush or floss string. The plaque left behind can trigger an infection that causes inflammation (swelling) and bleeding.
To exacerbate the situation, gums don’t always take well to braces and can react by overgrowing. Wearing braces may also coincide with a teenager’s surge in hormones that can accelerate the infection. Untreated, gingivitis can develop into advanced stages of disease that may eventually cause tooth loss. The effect is also heightened as we’re orthodontically putting stress on teeth to move them.
You can stay ahead of gingivitis through extra diligence with daily hygiene, especially taking a little more time to adequately get to all tooth surfaces with your brush and floss. It may also help to switch to a motorized brush or one designed to work around braces. You can make flossing easier by using special threaders to get around the wires or a water flosser that removes plaque with a pulsating water stream.
And don’t forget regular dental visits while wearing braces: we can monitor and treat overgrowth, perform thorough dental cleanings and treat occurrences of gingivitis. In some cases you may need to visit a periodontist, a specialist in gums and supporting teeth structures, for more advanced treatment. And if the disease becomes extensive, the braces may need to be removed temporarily to treat the gums and allow them to heal.
Orthodontic treatment is important for not only creating a new smile but also improving your teeth’s function. Keeping a close eye out for gum disease will make sure it doesn’t sidetrack your efforts in gaining straighter teeth.
If you would like more information on dental care during orthodontics, 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 “Gum Swelling During Orthodontics.”
A loose adult tooth isn't normal. It could be loose because it's been subjected to high biting forces like those that occur with a tooth grinding habit. Or, it could be the result of periodontal (gum) disease or some other infection that has weakened some of the tooth's supporting gums and bone. Whatever the underlying cause, we'll need to act quickly to save your tooth.
Our first step is to find out this exact cause—that will determine what treatment course we need to follow. For a tooth grinding habit, for example, you might need to wear an occlusal guard or have your bite (teeth) adjusted. With gum disease, we'll focus on removing dental plaque, the thin film of bacteria and tartar (calculus) fueling the infection. This stops the infection and minimizes any further damage.
While we're treating the cause, we may also need to secure the loose tooth with splinting. This is a group of techniques used to join loose teeth to more stable neighboring teeth, similar to connecting pickets in a fence. Splinting can be either temporary or permanent.
Temporary splinting usually involves composite materials with or without strips of metal to bond the loose tooth to its neighbors as the periodontal structures heal. Once the tooth's natural attachments return to health, we may then remove the splint.
There are a couple of basic techniques we can use for temporary splinting. One way is to bond the splint material to the enamel across the loose tooth and the teeth chosen to support it (extra-coronal splinting). We can also cut a small channel across all the affected teeth and then insert metal ligatures and bond the splint material within the channel (intra-coronal).
If we're not confident the loose tooth will regain its natural gum attachment, we would then consider a permanent splint. The most prominent method involves crowning the loose tooth and supporting teeth with porcelain crowns. We then fuse the crowns together to create the needed stability for the loose teeth.
Whatever splinting method we use, it's important to always address the root cause for a tooth's looseness. That's why splinting usually accompanies other treatments. Splinting loose teeth will help ensure your overall treatment is successful.
If you would like more information on treating loose teeth, 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 “Treatment for Loose Teeth.”
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