When we refer to periodontal (gum) disease, we’re actually talking about a family of progressive, infectious diseases that attack the gums and other tissues attached to the teeth. Caused primarily by bacterial plaque left on tooth surfaces from inefficient oral hygiene, gum disease can ultimately lead to tooth loss.
There’s only one way to stop the infection and restore health to diseased tissues — remove all of the offending plaque and calculus (hardened plaque deposits) possible from tooth and gum surfaces, including below the gum line at the roots. The basic tools for this task are specialized hand instruments called scalers or ultrasonic equipment that vibrates plaque loose. A series of cleaning sessions using these tools could stop the infection and promote healing if followed with a consistent, efficient daily hygiene habit.
There are times, however, when the infection has progressed so deeply below the gum line or into the tissues that it requires other procedures to remove the plaque and infected tissue. One such situation is the formation of an abscess within the gum tissues, a pus-filled sac that has developed in response to infection. After administering local anesthesia, the abscess must be treated to remove the cause and allow the infectious fluid to drain. The area is then thoroughly flushed with saline or an antibacterial solution.
The gum tissues are not completely attached to the tooth surface for a small distance creating a space. These spaces are called periodontal pockets when they are inflamed and continue to deepen as the disease progresses. These inflamed and sometimes pus-filled pockets form when tissues damaged by the infection detach from the teeth. If the pockets are located near the gum line, it may be possible to clean out the infectious material using scaling techniques. If, however, they’re located four or more millimeters below the gum line a technique known as root planing may be needed, where plaque and calculus are shaved or “planed” from the root surface. As the disease progresses and the pockets deepen, it may also be necessary for surgical intervention to gain access to the tooth roots.
To stop gum disease and promote soft tissue healing, we should use any or all treatment tools at our disposal to reach even the most difficult places for removing plaque and calculus. The end result — a saved tooth — is well worth the effort.
If you would like more information on treating periodontal 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 “Treating Difficult Areas of Periodontal Disease.”
Eating disorders cause more than psychological harm. The binge-purge cycle of bulimia or the self-starvation patterns of anorexia can also injure the physical body, especially the mouth.
For example, nine in ten people with bulimia will experience tooth enamel erosion from stomach acid entering the mouth from induced vomiting. Although purging is less frequent with anorexic patients, one in five will also develop erosion.
An eating disorder isn't the only reason for enamel erosion: you can have high acid levels from over-consuming sodas, energy drinks or certain foods, or not properly brushing and flossing every day. But erosion related to an eating disorder does produce a distinct pattern in the teeth. When a person vomits, the tongue moves forward and presses against the bottom teeth, which somewhat shields them from acid contact. This can create less erosion in the lower front teeth than in others.
Eating disorders can cause other oral effects. Stomach acid contact can eventually burn and damage the mouth's soft tissues. The salivary glands may become enlarged and cause puffiness along the sides of the face. The use of fingers or other objects to induce gagging can injure and redden the back of the throat, the tongue and other soft tissues.
It's important to stop or at least slow the damage as soon as possible. To do so requires both a short– and long-term strategy. In the short-term, we want to neutralize mouth acid as soon as possible after it enters the mouth, especially after purging. Rather than brushing, it's better to rinse out the mouth with water or with a little added baking soda to neutralize the acid. This will at least help reduce the potential damage to enamel.
In the long-term, though, we need to address the disorder itself for the sake of both the person's overall well-being and their oral health. You can speak with us or your family physician about options for counseling and therapy to overcome an eating disorder. You may also find it helpful to visit the website for the National Eating Disorders Association (nationaleatingdisorders.org) for information and a referral network.
If you would like more information on how eating disorders can affect health, 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 “Bulimia, Anorexia & Oral Health.”
There’s been a growing awareness about the effects of gluten, a protein found in grains like wheat, rye and sometimes oats, on certain people. An estimated 1 in 133 Americans have Celiac Disease (CD), a gluten-related disorder that causes the body’s immune system to work against itself. And if you have CD, you could eventually face dental problems like enamel pitting and erosion.
When a person with CD consumes gluten, their immune system mistakenly identifies the protein as malicious and attacks it. The attack occurs in the membranes that line the digestive system, which in the process destroys cilia, tiny hair-like structures that aid in food absorption. This disrupts the body’s normal absorption of nutrients, which can lead to a number of systemic conditions including intestinal cancer.
Because of the lack of nutrients, your teeth’s enamel may develop defects. You may begin to see dull spots or pitting, or chalky grooves in its normally shiny surface: this is a sign you’ve lost surface enamel crystals (decalcification). You may also be more susceptible to outbreaks of aphthous ulcers (canker sores).
Because symptoms can be misdiagnosed or go unnoticed, it may be years before you know you have CD. You can, however, get a definitive diagnosis through a blood test for gluten antibodies, which is then confirmed with a biopsy of a tissue specimen from the intestine.
While there’s ongoing research for CD-related medication, there’s currently only one recognized treatment for it — remove gluten from your diet. This is much harder than it sounds, and requires knowing what you can and can’t eat, along with strict monitoring of food package labeling. Thankfully, the world is becoming better educated in this respect as more food manufacturers are clearly labeling products containing gluten and restaurants are providing gluten-free menu options.
Once you have dietary controls in place, your dental issues can be treated as any other person, with one exception: none of the products used in treatment like polishing paste or fluoride gels should contain gluten, and must be verified before using.
CD is a serious condition that could even become life-threatening. Knowing you or someone in your family has it will help you protect both your overall health and your teeth.
If you would like more information on the gluten’s effect on dental health, 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 “Gluten & Dental Problems.”
The long-running hit show Dancing with the Stars has had its share of memorable moments, including a wedding proposal, a wardrobe malfunction, and lots of sharp dance moves. But just recently, one DWTS contestant had the bad luck of taking an elbow to the mouth on two separate occasions—one of which resulted in some serious dental damage.
Nationally syndicated radio personality Bobby Bones received the accidental blows while practicing with his partner, professional dancer Sharna Burgess. “I got hit really hard,” he said. “There was blood and a tooth. [My partner] was doing what she was supposed to do, and my face was not doing what it was supposed to do.”
Accidents like this can happen at any time—especially when people take part in activities where there’s a risk of dental trauma. Fortunately, dentists have many ways to treat oral injuries and restore damaged teeth. How do we do it?
It all depends on how much of the tooth is missing, whether the damage extends to the soft tissue in the tooth’s pulp, and whether the tooth’s roots are intact. If the roots are broken or seriously damaged, the tooth may need to be extracted (removed). It can then generally be replaced with a dental bridge or a state-of-the-art dental implant.
If the roots are healthy but the pulp is exposed, the tooth may become infected—a painful and potentially serious condition. A root canal is needed. In this procedure, the infected pulp tissue is removed and the “canals” (hollow spaces deep inside the tooth) are disinfected and sealed up. The tooth is then restored: A crown (cap) is generally used to replace the visible part above the gum line. A timely root canal procedure can often save a tooth that would otherwise be lost.
For moderate cracks and chips, dental veneers may be an option. Veneers are wafer-thin shells made of translucent material that go over the front surfaces of teeth. Custom-made from a model of your smile, veneers are securely cemented on to give you a restoration that looks natural and lasts for a long time.
It’s often possible to fix minor chips with dental bonding—and this type of restoration can frequently be done in just one office visit. In this procedure, layers of tooth-colored resin are applied to fill in the parts of the tooth that are missing, and then hardened by a special light. While it may not be as long-lasting as some other restoration methods, bonding is a relatively simple and inexpensive technique that can produce good results.
If you would like more information about emergency dental treatment, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can learn more by reading the Dear Doctor articles “The Field-Side Guide to Dental Injuries” and “Knocked Out Tooth.”
‘Tis the season to be merry—and with plenty of edible goodies! During the holidays, families fill their homes with all sorts of delectable treats for friends and loved ones. But there can be unintended consequences with all this joyous feasting, and not just added pounds come January: eating more sugar could increase your risk for dental disease.
We’re not here to throw a wet blanket on your holiday fun. Instead, we have 4 commonsense tips to help you keep your holiday snacking from ultimately causing tooth and gum woes.
Blend in healthier choices. The problem with sugar is that it’s a prime food source of disease-causing oral bacteria. The more sugar available in the mouth, the more these bacteria multiply and increase the disease threat to your teeth and gums. So, try reducing sugar by adding savory treats like nuts or flavored popcorn to your sweeter offerings. And don’t forget cheese and other dairy—eating dairy products along with sweets can help blunt some of sugar’s effect on bacteria.
Avoid “grazing.” While it’s tempting to do so during the holidays, continuous snacking increases the mouth’s acidity, which is like Superman’s kryptonite to your tooth enamel. The longer acid directly contacts your enamel, the more it can soften it and open the door to tooth decay. Saliva neutralizes after-meal acid; but if you’re constantly snacking, you could prevent saliva from completely buffering the acid present. So, limit your snacking time—or better yet, reserve your sweet treats for mealtime.
Don’t neglect your hygiene. The hectic pace of the holidays can interfere with people’s normal routines. Don’t let that happen to your daily practice of brushing and flossing. These essential hygiene tasks clean your teeth of a disease-causing biofilm called dental plaque. Miss a few days and the accumulated plaque could trigger an infection that could damage your gums and ultimately your teeth. You can help avoid this by brushing and flossing every day.
Don’t brush right after eating. The mouth’s acidity naturally increases during and just after eating. As we alluded to earlier, saliva’s on the job getting the mouth back to a more neutral state and reducing the effect of acid on enamel. That takes about an hour, though, and in the meantime your enamel may be in a slightly softened state. If you brush right after eating, you might inadvertently brush tiny bits of enamel. So, wait an hour or so after eating before you brush.
The holidays are all about enjoying friends and family and ringing in the new year. Follow these tips to ensure it’s a healthy and happy one for your teeth and gums.
If you would like more information about dental care during the holidays, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine article “6 Tips to Help Prevent the Erosion of Tooth Enamel.”
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