Your smile isn’t the same without healthy gums—neither are your teeth, for that matter. So, maintaining your gums by protecting them from periodontal (gum) disease is a top priority.
Gum disease is caused by bacterial plaque, a thin biofilm that collects on teeth and is not removed due to poor oral hygiene practices. Infected gums become chronically inflamed and begin to weaken, ultimately losing their firm attachment to the teeth. This can result in increasing voids called periodontal pockets that fill with infection. The gums can also shrink back (recede), exposing the tooth roots to further infection.
Although gum disease treatment techniques vary, the overall goal is the same: remove the bacterial plaque fueling the infection. This most often involves a procedure called scaling with special hand instruments to manually remove plaque and calculus (tartar). If the infection has spread below the gum line we may need to use a procedure called root planing in which we scrape or “plane” plaque and calculus from the root surfaces.
As we remove plaque, the gums become less inflamed. As the inflammation subsides we often discover more plaque and calculus, requiring more treatment sessions. Hopefully, our efforts bring the disease under control and restorative healing to the gums.
But while gum tissue can regenerate on its own, it may need some assistance if the recession was severe. This assistance can be provided through surgical procedures that graft donor tissues to the recession site. There are a number of microsurgical approaches that are all quite intricate to perform, and will usually require a periodontist (a specialist in gum structures) to achieve the most functional and attractive result.
While we have the advanced techniques and equipment to treat and repair gum disease damage, the best approach is to try to prevent the disease from occurring at all. Prevention begins with daily brushing and flossing, and continues with regular dental cleanings and checkups.
And if you do notice potential signs of gum disease like swollen, reddened or bleeding gums, call us promptly for an examination. The sooner we diagnose and begin treatment the less damage this progressive disease can do to your gums—and your smile.
If you would like more information on protecting your gums, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor article “Periodontal Plastic Surgery.”
In February, the American Dental Association sponsors Children’s Dental Health Month to raise awareness about the importance of good oral health for kids of all ages. It’s a great time to focus on concerns unique to children—teething, for example. This stage of development can be stressful for children and parents alike. Just ask tennis legend (and new mom) Serena Williams. When her baby daughter recently began teething, the Olympic gold medalist and multi-Grand-Slam champion asked her instagram followers for help:
“Teething… is so hard. Poor Alexis Olympia has been so uncomfortable. She cried so much… I almost need my mom to come and hold me to sleep cause I’m so stressed. Help? Anyone?”
We certainly sympathize with Serena’s plight. The process of teething—where a child’s primary teeth start to emerge (erupt) from below the gum line—can make both baby and parents irritable in the daytime and sleepless at night. While a few infants are born with tiny teeth already showing, most kids’ teeth begin emerging at age 4-7 months.
Teething is an important milestone in baby’s growth…but it’s one that’s not always cause for celebration. It can lead to pain, drooling, gnawing, and biting; ear rubbing and gum swelling; decreased appetite and disrupted sleeping patterns. And did we mention that irritability and stress are common as well? But if you notice fever, diarrhea, or widespread rash, it may be wise to consult your dentist or pediatrician.
What can you do to ease the discomfort of teething? The American Dental Association (ADA) has a few recommendations: Try soothing the gums by rubbing them gently with a clean finger or a cool, moist towel or washcloth; or let your baby chew on a cold (but not frozen) teething ring or pacifier.
If your pediatrician recommends it, over-the-counter medications like acetaminophen or ibuprofen can be used for persistent teething pain—but make sure to use the correct dosage and wait the proper amount of time between doses.
There are also a few things you should NEVER do. Don’t give alcohol to a baby in any form, and don’t rub any medications on baby’s gums. Don’t give a baby anything to chew on that’s unsafe (bones, breakable items, etc). And don’t use teething gels containing benzociane, lidocaine or certain homeopathic ingredients: According to a recent FDA warning, they may pose a danger to infants, including risks of rare but serious medical conditions. Feel free to check with us if you are not sure whether a particular remedy is safe for your baby.
There’s no doubt that teething can be stressful. But it’s a sign of normal development—and in time it will pass…like babyhood itself. If you’re concerned about your child’s teething or would like more information, please contact us or schedule a consultation. You can learn more in the Dear Doctor magazine article “Teething Troubles.”
When it comes to replacing a missing tooth, you have several options, including a removable partial denture or a fixed bridge. But the premier choice is “the new kid on the block” at just over thirty years old: dental implants. Implants are by far the most popular tooth replacement choice among both patients and dentists.
But they also happen to be the most expensive option, at least initially. So the question is, why invest in dental implants over less costly choices?
Here are 3 reasons why implants could be well worth their price.
More Like a real tooth than other restorations. Implants can match the life-like appearance of any other replacement choice, often utilizing the same types of materials. But where they really excel is in function—how they perform while biting and chewing. This is because the dental implant’s titanium post imbedded in the jawbone replaces the tooth root. No other dental restoration can do that—or perform better when comparing the resulting functionality.
Best long-term solution. As we mentioned before, the initial implant cost is typically higher than either dentures or bridges. But you should also consider their durability compared to other choices. It could be potentially much longer—possibly decades. This is because the titanium post creates an ultra-strong hold in the jawbone as bone cells naturally grow and adhere to this particular metal. The resulting hold can withstand the daily forces generated during eating and chewing. With proper care they might even last a lifetime, and actually cost you less in the long run over other choices.
Adaptable to other types of restoration. Implants have greater uses other than as individual tooth replacements. A few strategically placed implants can also be used to support removable dentures or a fixed bridge for multiple teeth or an entire dental arch. As the technology continues to advance, implants are helping to make other restoration options stronger, more stable and longer lasting—and adding more value to your investment.
If you would like more information on dental implants, 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 “Dental Implants 101.”
Losing teeth to tooth decay or periodontal (gum) disease is never easy. But with implant-supported bridgework, you can regain lost function and appearance with a restoration that could last for many years.
Don’t think, though, that dental disease woes are a thing of the past with your new implants. Although your restoration itself can’t be infected, the supporting gums and underlying bone can, often through bacterial plaque accumulating around the implants. The bone that supports the implants could deteriorate, dramatically increasing your chances of losing your restoration.
It’s essential, then, that you keep the area between the bridge and gums clean of plaque through daily hygiene. This definitely includes flossing around the implants.
Flossing with an implant-supported bridge will be different than with natural teeth: instead of flossing between teeth you’ll need to thread the floss between the bridge and gums. Although this is a bit more difficult, it can be done with the help of a floss threader, a device with a loop on one end and a long, thin plastic point on the other—similar to a sewing needle.
To use it, thread about 18” of floss through the loop and then pass the threader’s thin end first through the space between the bridge and gums toward the tongue until the floss threader pulls through. You can then take hold of one end of the floss and then pull the threader completely out from beneath the bridge. Then, you wrap the ends around your fingers as you would normally and thoroughly floss the implant surfaces you’re accessing. You then release one end of the floss, pull out the remainder, rethread it in the threader and repeat the process in the next space between implants.
You also have other hygiene tool options: prefabricated floss with stiffened ends that thread through the bridge-gum space that you can use very easily; or you can purchase an interproximal brush that resembles a pipe cleaner with thin plastic bristles to access the space and brush around the implants.
Some patients also find an oral irrigator, a handheld device that sprays a pressurized stream of water to loosen and flush away plaque, to be an effective way of keeping this important area clean. But that said, oral irrigators generally aren’t as effective removing dental plaque as are floss or interproximal brushes.
Whatever flossing method you choose, the important thing is to choose one and practice it every day. By keeping bacterial plaque from building up around your implants, you’ll help ensure you won’t lose your restoration to disease, so it can continue to serve you for many years to come.
As we age we become more susceptible to dental diseases. A common but often initially unnoticed problem for seniors is root decay.
We’re all familiar with tooth decay in the crown, the visible tooth above the gum line. Bacteria feeding on leftover sugar in the mouth produce acid, which at high levels erodes the teeth’s protective enamel. This forms cavities and, if untreated, deeper infection within the tooth that could reach the bone via the root canals.
But decay can also directly attack a tooth’s roots below the gum line. Roots are made of dentin and covered by a very thin layer of mineralized tooth structure called cementum. Cementum, which is much softer than enamel, is often lost because of its thinness, thus exposing the root’s dentin. This can make the area more susceptible to decay than the enamel-covered crown. Normally, though, the roots also have the gums covering them as added protection against bacterial infection.
But gum recession (shrinkage), a common experience for people in their later years, can expose the root surfaces. As a result, the roots become much more susceptible to decay. And an ensuing infection could spread more quickly into the interior of the tooth than decay originating in the crown.
That’s why it’s important to remove the decayed material and fill the root cavity to prevent the infection’s spread. While similar to a crown filling, the treatment can be more difficult if the root cavity extends below the gum line. In this case, we may need to perform a surgical procedure to access the cavity.
There are other things we can do to help prevent root cavities or limit their damage. We can apply fluoride varnish to strengthen the teeth and provide extra protection against cavities, or prescribe a fluoride rinse for use at home. We can also keep an eye out and treat periodontal (gum) disease, the main cause for gum recession.
The most important thing, though, is what you do: brush and floss thoroughly each day to remove bacterial plaque and limit sugary or acidic foods in your diet. Preventing decay and treating cavities as soon as possible will help ensure you’ll keep your teeth healthy and functional all through your senior years.
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