Gum disease is a bigger problem than you might think. More than half of all adults over age 30 have it, and that figure jumps to 70% of adults over 65. If left untreated, gum (periodontal) disease can eventually loosen teeth and cause them to fall out. It can also cause health issues outside of the mouth, including an increased risk of heart disease and other systemic health conditions.
But the good news is that gum disease can be treated—and even better, prevented! Since September is National Gum Care Month, it’s a good time to answer some frequently asked questions about gum disease:
What causes gum disease?
Gum disease is caused by certain types of harmful oral bacteria that live in a sticky film called dental plaque that collects on teeth both above and below the gum line. If this film is not cleaned effectively each day, it can eventually harden into a substance called tartar that can only be removed by a dental professional. As your body tries to fight the bacteria and the toxins they produce, your gums can become inflamed and may start to pull away from the teeth. Eventually, bone beneath the gums can start to break down and with continued bone loss, the teeth could be lost.
How do I know if I have it?
Gum disease doesn’t always produce symptoms—especially in smokers. Smoking hides the symptoms of gum disease because nicotine reduces blood flow to the area. However, there are things you should look out for. Gingivitis, a mild form of gum disease, can produce red and/or puffy gums that bleed when you brush or floss. Signs of periodontitis, a more serious form of the disease, include gum recession, bad mouth odors or tastes, and tooth looseness. But the only way to truly know if you have gum disease is to come in for an exam.
What can I do about it?
If you have gingivitis, a professional teeth cleaning and a renewed commitment to oral hygiene at home—including daily flossing and rinsing with antibacterial mouthwash—may be all you need to turn the situation around. Periodontitis may require a variety of treatments, ranging from special cleaning procedures of the tooth root surfaces to gum surgery. The first step toward controlling gum disease is visiting the dental office for an exam.
How can I prevent it?
Regular professional teeth cleanings and meticulous oral hygiene at home are your best defenses against gum disease. Avoid sugary drinks and snacks—which feed the disease-causing bacteria in your mouth—and tobacco in all forms. If you have diabetes, do your best to manage it well because uncontrolled diabetes can worsen periodontal disease.
If your smile is, to put it mildly, “unattractive,” you may think only extensive and expensive dental work can change it. But depending on your teeth’s actual condition, you might be able to obtain a new smile with a less-invasive option: porcelain veneers.
As their name implies, veneers are thin layers of dental porcelain bonded to the front of teeth to cover imperfections. They’re custom designed and manufactured by a dental technician to match the natural color, shape and size of the teeth they’re covering and to blend with neighboring teeth.
Veneers are quite effective for heavily stained, chipped or moderately misaligned teeth that are otherwise healthy. They can even be used to address slight gaps between teeth and restore worn teeth to make them appear larger and more youthful.
Overall, they’re less invasive than other dental restorations. That said, though, most veneers will still require some alteration of the affected teeth. This is because although quite thin they can still appear bulky after they’re bonded to the teeth. We can minimize this by removing a small amount of a tooth’s outer enamel. While this alteration is modest compared to other restorations, it’s nonetheless permanent– your teeth will require some form of restoration from then on.
Veneers also require special consideration while biting. You’ll need to exercise care and avoid biting hard items like candies (or using your teeth as tools) or the veneer could break. Similarly if you have a teeth grinding habit, you may want to consider having a custom guard created that you wear at night to prevent solid contact between your teeth. The excessive force generated while grinding or clenching teeth could also shatter veneers.
Veneers may not be the answer in all cosmetic dental situations, such as extensive disfigurements or bite problems. To know for sure if your particular dental condition could benefit, see your dentist for a complete dental examination and discuss whether obtaining veneers is a viable option for you. If so, you may be able to gain a much more attractive smile from this less invasive but no less effective option.
If you would like more information on porcelain veneers and other dental restorations, 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 “Porcelain Veneers: Strength & Beauty as Never Before.”
There are many new and exciting ways now to transform an unattractive smile into one you'll be confident to display. But not all “smile makeover” techniques are new — one in particular has been around for generations: using braces to correct crooked teeth.
Braces have improved the smiles (and also dental health) for millions of people. But as commonplace this orthodontic treatment is, it wouldn't work at all if a natural mechanism for moving teeth didn't already exist. Braces “partner” with this mechanism to move teeth to better positions.
The jawbone doesn't actually hold teeth in place — that's the job of an elastic gum tissue between the teeth and bone called the periodontal ligament. Tiny fibers extending from the ligament attach to the teeth on one side and to the bone on the other. In addition to securing them, the dynamic, moldable nature of the ligament allows teeth to move incrementally in response to forces applied against them.
To us, the teeth feel quite stationary (if they don't, that's a problem!). That's because there's sufficient length of the tooth roots that are surrounded by bone, periodontal ligament and gum tissue. But when pressure is applied against the teeth, the periodontal ligament forms both osteoblasts (bone-forming cells) and osteoclasts (bone-resorbing cells) causing the bone to remodel. This allows the teeth to move to a new position.
Braces take advantage of this in a controlled manner. The orthodontist bonds brackets to the outside face of the teeth through which they pass a thin metal wire. They attach the ends of the wire to the brackets (braces), usually on the back teeth. By using the tension placed in the wire, the orthodontist can control the gradual movement of teeth to achieve proper function and aesthetics. The orthodontist continues to monitor the treatment progress, while making periodic adjustments to the tension.
It takes time, but through this marvelous interplay between nature and dental science you'll gain a more healthy and beautiful smile.
If you would like more information on improving your smile with 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 “Moving Teeth with Orthodontics.”
When they’re introducing a new movie, actors often take a moment to pay tribute to the people who helped make it happen — like, you know, their dentists. At least that’s what Charlize Theron did at the premiere of her new spy thriller, Atomic Blonde.
"I just want to take a quick moment to thank my dentists," she told a Los Angeles audience as they waited for the film to roll. "I don’t even know if they’re here, but I just want to say thank you."
Why did the starring actress/producer give a shout-out to her dental team? It seems she trained and fought so hard in the action sequences that she actually cracked two teeth!
“I had severe tooth pain, which I never had in my entire life,” Theron told an interviewer from Variety. At first, she thought it was a cavity — but later, she found out it was more serious: One tooth needed a root canal, and the other had to be extracted and replaced with a dental implant — but first, a bone grafting procedure was needed. “I had to put a donor bone in [the jaw] to heal,” she noted, “and then I had another surgery to put a metal screw in there.”
Although it might sound like the kind of treatment only an action hero would need, bone grafting is now a routine part of many dental implant procedures. The reason is that without a sufficient volume of good-quality bone, implant placement is difficult or impossible. That’s because the screw-like implant must be firmly joined with the jawbone, so it can support the replacement tooth.
Fortunately, dentists have a way to help your body build new bone: A relatively small amount of bone material can be placed in the missing tooth’s socket in a procedure called bone grafting. This may come from your own body or, more likely, it may be processed bone material from a laboratory. The donor material can be from a human, animal or synthetic source, but because of stringent processing techniques, the material is safe for human use. Once it is put in place your body takes over, using the grafted material as a scaffold on which to build new bone cells. If jawbone volume is insufficient for implants, it can often be restored to a viable point in a few months.
Better yet, when grafting material is placed in the tooth socket immediately after extraction, it can keep most of the bone loss from occurring in the first place, enabling an implant to be placed as soon as possible — even before the end of a movie’s shooting schedule.
Will Atomic Blonde prove to be an action-movie classic? Only time will tell. But one thing’s for sure: When Charlize Theron walks down the red carpet, she won’t have to worry about a gap in her smile.
If you have questions about bone grafting or dental implants, please contact our office or schedule a consultation. You can read more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Dental Implant Surgery” and “Immediate Dental Implant.”
While gum recession is a common occurrence related to aging, it’s not just an “old person’s disease.” It can happen to anyone, even someone with a relatively healthy mouth. And this detachment and shrinking back of the gums from the teeth may not be a minor problem—your dental health is definitely at risk.
Here then are 4 things you should know about gum recession, and what you can do about it.
The most common cause: periodontal (gum) disease. A bacterial infection triggered by built-up dental plaque, gum disease weakens the gums’ attachment to teeth that leads to recession. To help prevent it, clean away plaque with daily brushing and flossing and visit a dentist regularly for more thorough plaque removal. If you already have gum disease, prompt treatment could stop the infection and reduce any resulting damage including recession.
…But not the only one. There are other factors that contribute to recession besides disease. In fact, it could be the result of “too much of a good thing”—brushing too hard and too frequently can damage the gums and lead to recession. You might also be more susceptible to recession if you’ve inherited thin gum tissues from your parents. Thin gums are at increased risk of recession from both disease and over-aggressive hygiene.
Best outcomes result from treating gum disease and/or recession early. The earlier we detect and treat a gum problem, the better the outcome. See your dentist as soon as possible if you see abnormalities like swollen or bleeding gums or teeth that appear larger than before. Depending on your condition there are a number of treatment options like plaque removal or techniques to protect exposed teeth and improve appearance.
Grafting surgery could regenerate lost gum tissue. While with mild cases of gum recession the gums may respond well to treatment and actually rejuvenate on their own, that might not be possible with advanced recession. We may, however, still be able to restore lost tissue through grafting. Using one of a number of techniques, a graft of donor tissue can foster new replacement growth. It’s a meticulous micro-surgical approach, but it could be a viable answer to extreme gum recession.
If you would like more information on 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 “Gum Recession.”
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