If you’re over age 30 there’s a fifty percent chance you have periodontal (gum) disease—and you may not even know it. Without treatment this often “silent” bacterial infection could cause you to lose gum coverage, supporting bone volume or eventually your teeth.
That’s not to say there can’t be noticeable symptoms like swollen, red, bleeding or painful gums. But the surest way to know if you have gum disease, as well as how advanced it is, is to have us examine your gums with manual probing below the gum line.
Using a long metal device called a periodontal probe, we can detect if you’ve developed periodontal pockets. These are gaps created when the diseased gum’s attachment to teeth has weakened and begun to pull away. The increased void may become inflamed (swollen) and filled with infection.
During an exam we insert the probe, which has markings indicating depths in millimeters, into the naturally occurring space between tooth and gums called the sulcus. Normally, the sulcus extends only about 1-3 mm deep, so being able to probe deeper is a sign of a periodontal pocket. How deep we can probe can also tell us about the extent of the infection: if we can probe to 5 mm, you may have early to mild gum disease; 5-7 mm indicates moderate gum disease; and anything deeper is a sign of advanced disease.
Knowing periodontal pocket depth helps guide our treatment strategy. Our main goal is to remove bacterial plaque, a thin film of food particles that collects on teeth and is the main cause and continuing fuel for the infection. In mild to moderate cases this may only require the use of hand instruments called scalers to manually remove plaque from tooth surfaces.
If, however, our periodontal probing indicates deeper, advanced gum disease, we may need to include surgical procedures to access these infected areas through the gum tissue. By knowing the depth and extent of any periodontal pockets, we can determine whether or not to use these more invasive techniques.
Like many other health conditions, discovering gum disease early could help you avoid these more advanced procedures and limit the damage caused by the infection. Besides daily brushing and flossing to remove plaque and regular dental checkups, keep watch for signs of swollen or bleeding gums and contact us for an appointment as soon as possible. And be aware that if you smoke, your gums will not likely bleed or swell—that could make diagnosis more difficult.
If you would like more information on treating gum disease, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor article “Understanding Periodontal Pockets.”
Due to financial circumstances, people often have a lost tooth restored with a removable partial denture, an effective appliance that restores function and a degree of aesthetic appearance. Later, though, they may want to improve both function and appearance with a dental implant.
If this describes you, you’re making a great choice. Dental implants are the closest technology we have to a natural tooth. But there may be a roadblock to your implant, especially if a long time has passed since your tooth loss—there may not be enough bone at the site to place an implant.
The heart of an implant is a titanium metal post surgically imbedded in the jawbone. The titanium naturally attracts bone cells, which grow and adhere to it to form a solid hold that can support a porcelain crown or other restorations like bridges or dentures. But to achieve a natural appearance it’s important that the implant is placed in the right location. To achieve that requires adequate bone.
But there may not be adequate bone if the tooth has been missing for a while. The forces generated when we chew travel through the teeth to the jawbone, which stimulates bone growth. If that stimulus is absent because of a missing tooth, new bone cells may not replace older ones at a healthy rate and the total bone volume begins to diminish. A denture can’t compensate and, in fact, accelerates bone loss.
But there may be a solution: bone grafting. With this procedure we place a donor bone graft into the area of bone deficiency some time before implant surgery. The graft serves as a scaffold for new bone cells to grow upon. Hopefully, this will produce enough healthy bone to support an implant. If the bone deficiency is minor, we may place the implant and the bone graft at the same time.
If you have experienced bone loss, we must first determine the amount of bone at the missing tooth site and whether grafting is a viable option. Bone grafting postpones your implant, but the delay will be worth the wait if we’re successful. With increased bone volume you’ll be able to obtain a new tooth that’s superior to your current restoration.
Some people are lucky — they never seem to have a mishap, dental or otherwise. But for the rest of us, accidents just happen sometimes. Take actor Jamie Foxx, for example. A few years ago, he actually had a dentist intentionally chip one of his teeth so he could portray a homeless man more realistically. But recently, he got a chipped tooth in the more conventional way… well, conventional in Hollywood, anyway. It happened while he was shooting the movie Sleepless with co-star Michelle Monaghan.
“Yeah, we were doing a scene and somehow the action cue got thrown off or I wasn't looking,” he told an interviewer. “But boom! She comes down the pike. And I could tell because all this right here [my teeth] are fake. So as soon as that hit, I could taste the little chalkiness, but we kept rolling.” Ouch! So what's the best way to repair a chipped tooth? The answer it: it all depends…
For natural teeth that have only a small chip or minor crack, cosmetic bonding is a quick and relatively easy solution. In this procedure, a tooth-colored composite resin, made of a plastic matrix with inorganic glass fillers, is applied directly to the tooth's surface and then hardened or “cured” by a special light. Bonding offers a good color match, but isn't recommended if a large portion of the tooth structure is missing. It's also less permanent than other types of restoration, but may last up to 10 years.
When more of the tooth is missing, a crown or dental veneer may be a better answer. Veneers are super strong, wafer-thin coverings that are placed over the entire front surface of the tooth. They are made in a lab from a model of your teeth, and applied in a separate procedure that may involve removal of some natural tooth material. They can cover moderate chips or cracks, and even correct problems with tooth color or spacing.
A crown is the next step up: It's a replacement for the entire visible portion of the tooth, and may be needed when there's extensive damage. Like veneers, crowns (or caps) are made from models of your bite, and require more than one office visit to place; sometimes a root canal may also be needed to save the natural tooth. However, crowns are strong, natural looking, and can last many years.
But what about teeth like Jamie's, which have already been restored? That's a little more complicated than repairing a natural tooth. If the chip is small, it may be possible to smooth it off with standard dental tools. Sometimes, bonding material can be applied, but it may not bond as well with a restoration as it will with a natural tooth; plus, the repaired restoration may not last as long as it should. That's why, in many cases, we will advise that the entire restoration be replaced — it's often the most predictable and long-lasting solution.
Oh, and one more piece of advice: Get a custom-made mouthguard — and use it! This relatively inexpensive device, made in our office from a model of your own teeth, can save you from a serious mishap… whether you're doing Hollywood action scenes, playing sports or just riding a bike. It's the best way to protect your smile from whatever's coming at it!
If you have questions about repairing chipped teeth, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more by reading the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Artistic Repair of Chipped Teeth With Composite Resin” and “Porcelain Veneers.”
Twice a year dental cleanings are an important aspect of optimal oral health. But if you’re not brushing and flossing every day, your dental visits could change from regular maintenance to teeth rescue missions.
These two hygiene tasks don’t take long—a single trip with floss around each tooth and a couple of minutes of brushing at least twice a day—but you’ll need to perform them effectively to get the most out of them. Not to worry, though: with a little practice and helpful advice from us, this small investment in time and effort could save your teeth—and your money.
The first thing to know, though, is the reason behind brushing and flossing: to remove disease-causing bacterial plaque that can build up daily on teeth. Bacteria produce acid, which at elevated levels can erode enamel and lead to decay; and some bacterial strains can cause periodontal (gum) disease. These infections could ultimately lead to gum recession, bone deterioration and tooth loss.
Daily brushing and flossing lowers your risk of this occurring. It’s your preference in what order you do them, but for now let’s start with flossing.
There are a number of techniques—and tools—for effective flossing. If you’re using thread floss, simply cut off about 18 inches and wrap each end around the middle finger from each hand. Use the remaining fingers to create a small amount of floss between the two best fingers for a particular area of the mouth and gently pull the floss in between the tooth gap. Form a “C” shape around one of the tooth sides and rub up and down until you hear a squeak (which you’ll only hear if you use un-waxed floss). Now, repeat the action with the adjacent tooth, then move to the next and each succeeding gap and do the same until you’ve cleaned each side of each tooth.
When brushing, hold your toothbrush gently like a paintbrush or pencil at about a 45-degree angle with just a small amount of toothpaste on the end bristles. All it takes is a gentle scrubbing or wiggling motion and the abrasives and detergents in the toothpaste will do the rest. Just make sure you fully brush all your teeth and gum surfaces, which should take about two minutes.
Along with regular dental visits and a low-sugar diet to discourage bacterial growth, brushing and flossing will help you avoid disease and enjoy the best oral health possible.
If you would like more information on keeping your teeth and gums clean, 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 “Daily Oral Hygiene: Easy Habits for Maintaining Oral Health.”
Teething is a normal part of your baby’s dental development. That doesn’t make it less stressful, though, for you or your baby.
This natural process occurs as your child’s primary teeth sequentially erupt through the gums over a period of two or three years. The first are usually the two lower front teeth followed by the two upper front ones, beginning (give or take a couple of months) between six and nine months. By the age of three, most children have all twenty of their primary teeth.
The disruption to the gum tissues can cause a number of unpleasant side effects including gum swelling, facial rash, drooling, disrupted sleep patterns and decreased appetite. As a result a child can become irritable, bite and gnaw to relieve gum discomfort or rub their ears. Every child’s experience is different as well as their degree of pain and discomfort.
As a tooth is about to erupt, you may notice symptoms increasing a few days before and after. The symptoms will then subside until the next tooth begins to erupt. In a way, teething is much like a storm—you mostly have to ride it out. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t lessen your child’s discomfort during the teething episode.
For one thing, cold, soft items like teething rings, pacifiers or even a clean, wet washcloth your child can gnaw on will help relieve gum pressure. Chilling the item can have a pain-numbing effect—but avoid freezing temperatures, which can burn the tissues. You can also massage the gums with a clean finger to relieve pain. But don’t rub alcohol on their gums and only use numbing agents (like Benzocaine) for children older than two, and only with the advice and supervision of your healthcare provider. The use of acetaminophen or ibuprofen might also be used under the advice of your doctor.
If you notice your child has diarrhea, extensive rashes or fever, contact your physician immediately—these aren’t normal teething symptoms and may indicate something more serious. And be sure to consult with us if you have any other questions or concerns.
Teething can be a difficult time for your baby and family. But with these tips and a little “TLC” you can keep their discomfort to a minimum.
If you would like more information on caring for your baby’s developing 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 “Teething Troubles: How to Help Your Baby be Comfortable.”
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