There’s more to teeth than meets the eye. Hidden beneath the visible crown are the tooth’s roots set within the jawbone, secured and protected by the gums from bacteria and infection. But if the gums shrink back (recede), the roots become exposed and susceptible to disease, especially at the points where multiple roots branch from each other, areas called furcations.
It all begins with periodontal (gum) disease caused by built-up bacterial plaque from insufficient brushing and flossing. The infection triggers inflammation that over time weakens gum tissues. They begin to detach from the teeth, which can eventually lead to gum recession and root exposure.
This also causes bone loss, especially at the furcations. We can detect any loss (known as a furcation invasion) and how far along it may be with x-ray imaging or by manually probing with an instrument called a periodontal probe.
There are three general classes measuring furcation invasions. In the earliest, Class I, we can feel the invasion as a slight groove; in Class II, it increases to two or more millimeters across. In Class III the bone loss extends from one side of the root all the way to the other (a “through and through”).
At this stage a patient is in danger of losing the tooth, so we’ll have to act promptly. This means first removing accumulated dental plaque and calculus (tartar) to stop the infection and allow the gums to heal. With severe damage, we may need to assist healing with bone and gum tissue grafting, in which we place donor grafts to serve as scaffolding for the appropriate tissue to grow upon.
You can help prevent this situation by practicing effective daily hygiene and visiting your dentist for thorough cleanings at least twice a year (or more if recommended). And at the first signs of a gum infection—swollen, reddened or bleeding gums—make an appointment as soon as possible to have it checked. The sooner we can detect and treat gum disease, the less likely a furcation invasion or worse will be in your future.
As your dental provider, we're always alert for signs of tooth decay or periodontal (gum) disease, the two leading causes of tooth loss. But we're also watching for less common conditions that could be just as devastating.
Root resorption falls into this latter category: it occurs when a tooth's root structure begins to break down and dissolve (or resorb). It's a normal process in primary ("baby") teeth to allow them to loosen and give way when permanent teeth are ready to erupt.
It's not normal, though, for permanent teeth. Something internally or—more commonly—externally causes the root structure to break down. External resorption usually occurs at the neck-like or cervical area of a tooth around the gum line. Known as external cervical resorption (ECR), it can first appear as small, pinkish spots on the enamel. These spots contain abnormal cells that cause the actual damage to the root.
We don't fully understand how root resorption occurs, but we have identified certain factors that favor its development. For example, it may develop if a person has experienced too much force against the teeth during orthodontic treatment. Injury to the periodontal ligaments, teeth-grinding habits or some dental procedures like internal bleaching may also contribute to later root resorption.
Early diagnosis is a major part of effective treatment for root resorption. Because it's usually painless and easily overlooked, resorption is often too difficult to detect in its early stages without x-rays—a good reason for regular dental exams. Beginning spots or lesions are usually small enough to surgically remove the tissue cells causing the damage and then filled with a tooth-colored filling material. If it has advanced further, we may also need to perform a root canal treatment.
At some point, the damage from root resorption can be too great, in which case it might be best to remove the tooth and replace it with a dental implant or similar restoration. That's why catching root resorption early through regular dental exams can give you the edge for saving your tooth.
If you would like more information on diagnosing and treating root resorption, 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 “Root Resorption: An Unusual Phenomenon.”
Periodontal (gum) disease is a bacterial infection, which if left untreated could cause gum recession, bone loss and eventually tooth loss. Caused mainly by plaque left on tooth surfaces from poor hygiene practices, the deeper the infection spreads below the gum line, the more difficult it is to treat.
One possible scenario involves parts of a tooth’s root structure known as furcations. These are branching forks formed during the early development of teeth with multiple roots where they take different paths from the base of the crown. As gum disease spreads around the root it may cause different degrees of bone loss at the point of the branch.
It’s imperative when treating gum disease to uncover and remove any bacterial plaque or calculus (hardened plaque deposits) found, including below the gum line. To address bacterial plaque at the root level, it’s important to first determine if bone loss has involved the furcations (where the roots separate, also referred to as a “furcation invasion”) and to what degree.
We usually classify this degree of involvement in three classes: Class I, the invasion has created a groove in the furcation, but minimal significant bone loss; Class II, the bone loss has extended into the furcation by at least two millimeters; or Class III, the bone loss extends completely from one end of the furcation to the other (or “through and through”).
Depending on the class, cleaning plaque and calculus from furcations and then maintaining them thereafter can be quite challenging. We may need to use specially shaped hand instruments known as scalers or curettes to reach and clean root surfaces, or ultrasonic scalers that use high-frequency vibrations and streaming water to loosen and flush away plaque debris. It may also prove helpful, though limited, to apply antimicrobials or antibiotics to the area to help limit the levels of bacteria.
Disease damage around furcations may also require surgical treatment to encourage new tissue and bone growth in the area. Surgery can also help make the area more accessible to future cleaning and maintenance, both for you and us. Renewed hygiene practices on your part and regular cleaning and checkups with us will help ensure that the situation involving your tooth roots can be kept under control and your tooth preserved for many years to come.
Basketball isn't a contact sport—right? Maybe once upon a time that was true… but today, not so much. Just ask New York Knicks point guard Dennis Smith Jr. While scrambling for a loose ball in a recent game, Smith's mouth took a hit from an opposing player's elbow—and he came up missing a big part of his front tooth. It's a type of injury that has become common in this fast-paced game.
Research shows that when it comes to dental damage, basketball is a leader in the field. In fact, one study published in the Journal of the American Dental Association (JADA) found that intercollegiate athletes who play basketball suffered a rate of dental injuries several times higher than those who played baseball, volleyball or track—even football!
Part of the problem is the nature of the game: With ten fast-moving players competing for space on a small court, collisions are bound to occur. Yet football requires even closer and more aggressive contact. Why don't football players suffer as many orofacial (mouth and face) injuries?
The answer is protective gear. While football players are generally required to wear helmets and mouth guards, hoopsters are not. And, with a few notable exceptions (like Golden State Warriors player Stephen Curry), most don't—which is an unfortunate choice.
Yes, modern dentistry offers many different options for a great-looking, long lasting tooth restoration or replacement. Based on each individual's situation, it's certainly possible to restore a damaged tooth via cosmetic bonding, veneers, bridgework, crowns, or dental implants. But depending on what's needed, these treatments may involve considerable time and expense. It's better to prevent dental injuries before they happen—and the best way to do that is with a custom-made mouthguard.
Here at the dental office we can provide a high-quality mouthguard that's fabricated from an exact model of your mouth, so it fits perfectly. Custom-made mouthguards offer effective protection against injury and are the most comfortable to wear; that's vital, because if you don't wear a mouthguard, it's not helping. Those "off-the-rack" or "boil-and-bite" mouthguards just can't offer the same level of comfort and protection as one that's designed and made just for you.
Do mouthguards really work? The same JADA study mentioned above found that when basketball players were required to wear mouthguards, the injury rate was cut by more than half! So if you (or your children) love to play basketball—or baseball—or any sport where there's a danger of orofacial injury—a custom-made mouthguard is a good investment in your smile's future.
If you would like more information about custom-made athletic mouthguards, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can learn more by reading the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Athletic Mouthguards” and “An Introduction to Sports Injuries & Dentistry.”
There are a variety of methods for treating periodontal (gum) disease depending on its severity — from routine office cleanings to periodontal surgery. But the goal behind all of them remains the same: remove bacterial plaque and calculus (tartar), the root cause for gum disease, from all tooth and gum surfaces.
The traditional method for doing this is called scaling in which we use special hand instruments (scalers) to mechanically remove plaque and calculus. Scaling and a similar procedure called root planing (the root surfaces are “planed” smooth of plaque to aid tissue reattachment) require quite a bit of skill and experience. They're also time-consuming: full treatment can take several sessions, depending on how extensive the infection has spread.
In recent years, we've also seen a new method emerge for removing plaque: lasers. Commonly used in other aspects of healthcare, lasers utilize a focused beam of light to destroy and remove diseased or unhealthy tissue while, according to studies and firsthand accounts, minimizing healthy tissue destruction to a better degree than traditional techniques. Procedure and healing times are likewise reduced.
Because of these beneficial characteristics, we are seeing their use in gum disease treatment, especially for removing diseased and inflamed tissues below the gum line and decreasing sub-gingival (“below the gums”) bacteria.
Dentists who have used lasers in this way do report less tissue damage, bleeding and post-treatment discomfort than traditional treatments. But because research is just beginning, there's not enough evidence to say laser treatment is preferably better than conventional treatment for gum disease.
At this point, lasers can be an effective addition to conventional gum disease treatment for certain people, especially those in the early stages of the disease. As we continue to study this technology, though, the day may come when lasers are the preferred way to stop gum disease from ruining your dental health.
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 magazine article “Lasers Versus Traditional Cleanings for Treating Gum Disease.”
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