Here’s the bad news about periodontal (gum) disease: It’s a leading cause for tooth loss. Even worse: Half of adults over 30 will have some form of it during their lifetime.
But here’s the good news: If caught early, we can often treat and stop gum disease before it can do substantial harm to your mouth. And the best news of all—you may be able to avoid a gum infection altogether by adopting a few healthy habits.
Here are 4 habits you can practice to prevent a gum infection from happening.
Practice daily brushing and flossing. Gum disease is a bacterial infection most often arising from dental plaque, a thin film of bacteria and food particles that accumulates on teeth. Removing plaque daily with brushing and flossing will reduce your chances of a gum infection. And be sure it’s daily—missing just a few days is enough for gum inflammation to get started.
Get regular dental cleanings and checkups. Even the most diligent personal hygiene can miss plaque, which may then harden into a calcified form impossible to remove with brushing and flossing called calculus (tartar). At least twice-a-year professional dental cleanings will clear away any remnant plaque and tartar, which can greatly reduce your risk for dental disease.
Make gum-friendly lifestyle changes. Smoking more than doubles your chances of gum disease. Likewise, a sugar-heavy diet, which feeds disease-causing bacteria, also makes you more susceptible to infection. Quitting smoking, cutting back on alcohol consumption and following a dental-friendly diet could boost your teeth and gum health and avoid infection.
Watch for signs of infection. Although you can greatly reduce your risk of gum disease, you can’t always bring that risk to zero. So, be aware of the signs of gum disease: sometimes painful, swollen, reddened or bleeding gums. If you notice any of these signs, make a dental appointment—the sooner you’re diagnosed and begin treatment, the less likely gum disease will ruin your dental health.
Your mouth is a lot like the Wild West — home to millions of bacteria and other microbes, some of which are definitely not “the good guys.” But your teeth are well-protected from these hostile forces and their acidic waste products: with enamel shielding the visible part of your tooth, your gums protect the parts you can’t see.
As effective as they are, though, your gums aren’t invincible: their greatest threat is periodontal (gum) disease. This bacterial infection arises from plaque, a thin film of bacteria and food particles accumulating on teeth due to inadequate brushing and flossing.
The infected tissues soon become inflamed (red and swollen), a natural defensive response from the immune system. The longer they’re inflamed, however, the more likely they’ll begin detaching from the teeth. The gums may eventually shrink back or recede from the teeth, often causing them to appear “longer” because more of the tooth is now exposed to view.
Gum recession doesn’t bode well for your teeth’s survival: the exposed tooth and underlying bone can become even more susceptible to infection and damage. In the end, you could lose your tooth and portions of the supporting bone.
Treatment depends on the severity of the gum recession. In mild to moderate cases, we may only need to perform the standard gum disease treatment of removing plaque and calculus from all gum and tooth surfaces (including below the gum line) with special instruments. This helps reduce the infection and allow the gums to heal and re-establish attachment with the tooth. In more advanced cases, though, the recession may be so extensive we’ll need to graft donor tissue to the area using one of a variety of surgical techniques.
Although the right treatment plan can help restore your gum health, there’s another approach that’s even better — preventing gum disease in the first place. You can reduce your disease risk by practicing daily brushing and flossing and visiting your dentist regularly or when you see symptoms like gum swelling or bleeding. Taking care of your gums won’t just save your smile — it might also save your teeth.
If you would like more information on diagnosing and 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 “Gum Recession.”
The movie Bohemian Rhapsody celebrates the iconic rock band Queen and its legendary lead vocalist, Freddie Mercury. But when we see pictures of the flamboyant singer, many fans both old and new may wonder—what made Freddie’s toothy smile look the way it did? Here’s the answer: The singer was born with four extra teeth at the back of his mouth, which caused his front teeth to be pushed forward, giving him a noticeable overbite.
The presence of extra teeth—more than 20 primary (baby) teeth or 32 adult teeth—is a relatively rare condition called hyperdontia. Sometimes this condition causes no trouble, and an extra tooth (or two) isn’t even recognized until the person has an oral examination. In other situations, hyperdontia can create problems in the mouth such as crowding, malocclusion (bad bite) and periodontal disease. That’s when treatment may be recommended.
Exactly what kind of treatment is needed? There’s a different answer for each individual, but in many cases the problem can be successfully resolved with tooth extraction (removal) and orthodontic treatment (such as braces). Some people may be concerned about having teeth removed, whether it’s for this problem or another issue. But in skilled hands, this procedure is routine and relatively painless.
Teeth aren’t set rigidly in the jawbone like posts in cement—they are actually held in place dynamically by a fibrous membrane called the periodontal ligament. With careful manipulation of the tooth, these fibers can be dislodged and the tooth can be easily extracted. Of course, you won’t feel this happening because extraction is done under anesthesia (often via a numbing shot). In addition, you may be given a sedative or anti-anxiety medication to help you relax during the procedure.
After extraction, some bone grafting material may be placed in the tooth socket and gauze may be applied to control bleeding; sutures (stitches) are sometimes used as well. You’ll receive instructions on medication and post-extraction care before you go home. While you will probably feel discomfort in the area right after the procedure, in a week or so the healing process will be well underway.
Sometimes, dental problems like hyperdontia need immediate treatment because they can negatively affect your overall health; at other times, the issue may be mainly cosmetic. Freddie Mercury declined treatment because he was afraid dental work might interfere with his vocal range. But the decision to change the way your smile looks is up to you; after an examination, we can help you determine what treatment options are appropriate for your own situation.
If you have questions about tooth extraction or orthodontics, please contact our office or schedule a consultation. You can read more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Simple Tooth Extraction” and “The Magic of Orthodontics.”
Gum recession is an all too common problem for millions of people that if left untreated could lead to tooth and bone loss. But the good news is not only can the process be stopped, much of the damage can also be repaired through periodontal plastic surgery.
Gum recession occurs when the gum tissue protecting the teeth detaches and draws back to expose the root surface. This exposure may result in a range of effects, from minor tooth sensitivity to eventual tooth loss. There are a number of causes for gum recession, including overaggressive brushing or flossing, biting habits or badly fitting dentures or appliances.
The most prominent cause, though, is periodontal (gum) disease, a bacterial infection triggered by plaque buildup on tooth surfaces due to poor oral hygiene. Fortunately, early gum disease is highly treatable by thoroughly cleaning tooth, root and gum surfaces of plaque and calculus (hardened plaque deposits), along with possible antibiotic therapy, to reduce the infection and promote tissue healing.
Unfortunately, advanced cases of gum recession may have already resulted in extensive damage to the tissues themselves. While disease treatment can stimulate some re-growth, some cases may require reconstructive surgery to repair and further rebuild the tissues.
There are several techniques periodontists (specialists in gums, bone and other dental support structures) or dentists with advanced training can perform to “re-model” recessed gum tissues. One of the major areas is placing tissue grafts (either from the patient or a human donor) at the site to encourage further tissue growth. Properly affixing a graft requires a great deal of training, skill and experience, especially in cases where the graft may need to be connected with adjoining tissues to establish a viable blood supply for the graft.
In skilled hands, a periodontal surgical procedure is fairly predictable with minimal discomfort afterward. And the lasting effects are well-worth it — not only will your health benefit from restored gum tissue and greater protection for your teeth, you’ll also enjoy a more attractive smile.
If you would like more information the treatment of gum recession, 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 Plastic Surgery.”
The Internet is truly amazing: It takes only a few seconds to tap into a vast store of knowledge to find information that once took people hours or days. But amidst all that helpful data, there's also some not so helpful information—in fact, some can be downright harmful, including to your dental health.
One particular Internet trend is brushing teeth with black, gooey substances containing activated charcoal. Scores of online videos featuring people doing this are getting viral views, perhaps more for the “gross” factor than the claimed health benefits.
So, why do it? Advocates of using activated charcoal for oral hygiene claim the ingredient kills harmful microorganisms in your mouth. The charcoal is also supposed to whiten your teeth.
But clinical studies of the practice, including one recently published in the Journal of the American Dental Association have been unable to substantiate these claims. There's simply no evidence that activated charcoal does what its advocates say it can do.
Unfortunately, there is evidence the practice can actually harm your teeth. This is because activated charcoal is an abrasive substance that over time could damage your teeth's enamel. Eroded enamel doesn't regrow, so eventually the more vulnerable dentin, the tooth layer just beneath the protective enamel, becomes exposed. It's not only darker and less attractive than enamel, its more susceptible to tooth decay and cavities.
The best way to care for your teeth, brushing and flossing daily, may seem boring compared to videos of brushing with charcoal, but it is effective—and safe. You should also see your dentist for more thorough cleanings at least every six months to round out your dental care.
And if you want a brighter smile, your dentist can perform a tooth whitening procedure that can give you months or even years of satisfaction. Professional tooth whitening (or even home whitening kits applied properly) also won't harm your enamel.
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