If you think gum disease only happens to the other guy (or gal), think again. If you’re over 30 you have a 50-50 chance for an infection. After 65 the risk climbs to 70 percent.
Fortunately, we can effectively treat most cases of gum disease. But depending on its severity, treatment can involve numerous intensive sessions and possible surgery to bring the disease under control. So, why not prevent gum disease before it happens?
First, though, let’s look at how gum disease most often begins—with dental plaque, a thin film of bacteria and food particles built up on teeth and gum surfaces. If plaque isn’t consistently removed through daily brushing and flossing, it doesn’t take long—just a few days—for the bacteria to infect the gums.
While it’s not always easy to detect gum disease early on, there are signs to look for like red, swollen and tender gums that bleed easily when you brush or floss, and bad breath or taste. The infection is usually more advanced if you notice pus-filled areas around your gums or loose teeth. If you see any of these (especially advanced signs like loose teeth) you should contact us as soon as possible.
Obviously, the name of the game with prevention is stopping plaque buildup, mainly through daily brushing and flossing. Technique is the key to effectiveness, especially with brushing: you should gently but thoroughly scrub all tooth surfaces and around the gum line, coupled with flossing between teeth.
To find out how well you’re doing, you can rub your tongue along your teeth after you brush and floss—you should feel a smooth, almost squeaky sensation. You can also use plaque-disclosing agents that dye bacterial plaque a particular color so you can easily see surface areas you’ve missed. You can also ask us for a “report card” on how well you’re doing during your next dental visit.
Dental visits, of course, are the other essential part of gum disease prevention—at least every six months (or more, if we recommend) for cleaning and checkups. Not only will we be able to remove hard-to-reach plaque and tartar, we’ll also give your gums a thorough assessment. By following this prevention regimen you’ll increase your chances of not becoming a gum disease statistic.
If you would like more information on recognizing 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 “How Gum Disease Gets Started.”
Tooth loss is a problem that affects many seniors—and since May is Older Americans Month, this is a good time to talk about it. Did you know that more than a quarter of adults over age 75 have lost all of their natural teeth? This not only affects their quality of life, but poses a significant health risk.
According to a study in The Journal of Prosthodontics, significant tooth loss is associated with increased risk for malnutrition—and also for obesity. If this seems like a contradiction, consider that when you have few or no teeth, it’s much easier to eat soft, starchy foods of little nutritional value than it is to eat nutritious fresh fruits and vegetables.
That’s just one reason why it’s important to replace missing teeth as soon as possible. There are several ways to replace a full set of missing teeth including removable dentures, overdentures, and fixed dentures.
Removable dentures are the classic “false teeth” that you put in during the day and take out at night. Dentures have come a long way in terms of how convincing they look as replacement teeth, but they still have some disadvantages: For one thing, they take some getting used to—particularly while eating. Also, wearing removable dentures can slowly wear away the bone that they rest on. As that bone gradually shrinks over time, the dentures cease to fit well and require periodic adjustment (re-lining).
Overdentures are removable dentures that hook onto a few strategically placed dental implants, which are small titanium posts placed in the bone beneath your gums. Strong and secure, implants prevent the denture from slipping when you wear it. Implants also slow the rate of bone loss mentioned above, which should allow the denture to fit better over a longer period of time. But overdentures, too, are not meant to be worn all of the time.
Fixed dentures are designed to stay in your mouth all the time, and are the closest thing to having your natural teeth back. An entire row of fixed (non-removable) replacement teeth can usually be held in place by 4-6 dental implants. Dental implant surgery is an in-office procedure performed with the type of anesthesia that’s right for you. After implants have been placed and have integrated with your jaw bone—generally a period of a few months—you can enjoy all of your favorite foods again without worry or embarrassment.
In an instant, an accident could leave you or a loved one with a missing tooth. Thankfully, we can restore it with a dental implant that looks and functions like a real tooth—and the sooner the better.
But if the patient is a teenager or younger, sooner may have to be later. Because their jaws are still developing, an implant placed now could eventually look as if it's sinking into the gums as the jaw continues to grow and the implant doesn't move. It's best to wait until full jaw maturity around early adulthood and in the meantime use a temporary replacement.
But that wait could pose a problem with bone health. As living tissue, bone cells have a life cycle where they form, function and then dissolve (resorption) with new cells taking their place. This cycle continues at a healthy rate thanks to stimulation from forces generated by the teeth during chewing that travel through the roots to the bone.
When a tooth goes missing, however, so does this stimulation. Without it the bone's growth cycle can slow to an unhealthy rate, ultimately reducing bone volume. Because implants require a certain amount of bone for proper placement and support, this could make it difficult if not impossible to install one.
We can help prevent this by placing a bone graft immediately after the removal of a tooth within the tooth's "socket." The graft serves as a scaffold for new bone cells to form and grow upon. The graft will eventually resorb leaving the newly formed bone in its place.
We can also fine-tune and slow the graft's resorption rate. This may be preferable for a younger patient with years to go before their permanent restoration. In the meantime, you can still proceed with other dental treatments including orthodontics.
By carefully monitoring a young patient's bone health and other aspects of their dental care, we can keep on course for an eventual permanent restoration. With the advances in implantology, the final smile result will be worth the wait.
If you would like more information on dental care for trauma injuries, 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 “Dental Implants for Teenagers: Factors Influencing Treatment Planning in Adolescents.”
A recent episode of “America’s Got Talent” featured an engaging 93-year-old strongman called The Mighty Atom Jr. The mature muscleman’s stunt: moving a full-sized car (laden with his octogenarian “kid brother,” his brother’s wife, plus Atom’s “lady friend”) using just his teeth. Grinning for host Howie Mandel, Atom proudly told the TV audience that his teeth were all his own; then he grasped a leather strap in his mouth, and successfully pulled the car from a standstill.
We’re pleased to see that the Atom has kept his natural teeth in good shape: He must have found time for brushing and flossing in between stunts. Needless to say, his “talent” isn’t one we’d recommend trying at home. But aside from pulling vehicles, teeth can also be chipped or fractured by more mundane (yet still risky) activities — playing sports, nibbling on pencils, or biting too hard on ice. What can you do if that happens to your teeth?
Fortunately, we have a number of ways to repair cracked or chipped teeth. One of the easiest and fastest is cosmetic bonding with tooth-colored resins. Bonding can be used to fill in small chips, cracks and discolorations in the teeth. The bonding material is a high-tech mixture of plastic and glass components that’s extremely lifelike, and can last for several years. Plus, it’s a procedure that can be done right in the office, with minimal preparation or discomfort. However, it may not be suitable for larger chips, and it isn’t the longest-lasting type of restoration.
When more of the tooth structure is missing, a crown (or cap) might be needed to restore the tooth’s appearance and function. This involves creating a replacement for the entire visible part of the tooth in a dental lab — or in some cases, right in the office. It typically involves making a model of the damaged tooth and its neighbors, then fabricating a replica, which will fit perfectly into the bite. Finally, the replacement crown is permanently cemented to the damaged tooth. A crown replacement can last for many years if the tooth’s roots are in good shape. But what if the roots have been dislodged?
In some cases it’s possible to re-implant a tooth that has been knocked out — especially if it has been carefully preserved, and receives immediate professional attention. But if a tooth can’t be saved (due to a deeply fractured root, for example) a dental implant offers today’s best option for tooth replacement. This procedure has a success rate of over 95 percent, and gives you a natural looking replacement tooth that can last for the rest of your life.
So what have we learned? If you take care of your teeth, like strongman Atom, they can last a long time — but if you need to move your car, go get the keys.
If you would like more information about tooth restoration, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can learn more by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Crowns & Bridgework.”
Your teen is about to embark on an orthodontic journey to a straighter, more attractive smile. But although you're excited about the outcome, you both may be steeling yourselves for a few years of "life with braces."
But maybe not—your teen may be able to take advantage of a different kind of corrective appliance: clear aligners. This 21st Century teeth movement method has a number of advantages over braces. For teens, though, there's one big one that could have a huge impact on their social life—clear aligners are nearly invisible to other people.
Clear aligners consist of a series of clear, removable, computer-generated trays based on photographs, models and x-rays of an individual patient's teeth and bite. Each of the trays is slightly different from the previous one in the series, and by wearing each one for about two weeks before moving on to the next, the aligners gradually move the teeth to the desired new positions.
Besides reducing embarrassment often associated with wearing metal braces, clear aligners have other benefits. Unlike braces, they can be removed for eating, easier oral hygiene or for rare special occasions (although for best effectiveness, they should be worn for 20 to 22 hours each day). Recent developments like added elements that help target certain teeth for movement or "power ridges" for more controlled and efficient force have increased the range of bite problems they can be used to correct.
While this means clear aligners can be used for many bite problems, in some severe cases braces and other orthodontic treatments might still be necessary. And because they're not fixed like braces (only the orthodontist can remove them) the patient must have the maturity and self-discipline to wear them consistently.
Your teen will need to undergo a thorough orthodontic examination to see if clear aligners are a viable option for them. If so, it could make the next few treatment years less stressful for both of you.
If you would like more information on clear aligners, 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 “Clear Aligners for Teens: User-Friendly Orthodontics.”
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