It often begins without you realizing it—spreading ever deeper into the gums and damaging tissue attachments, teeth and supporting bone in its way. In the end, it could cause you to lose your teeth.
This is periodontal (gum) disease, a bacterial infection caused by dental plaque, a thin biofilm that accumulates on tooth surfaces. It in turn triggers chronic inflammation, which can cause the gum attachments to teeth to weaken. Detaching gum ligaments may then produce diseased voids—periodontal pockets—that can widen the gap between the teeth and the gums down to the roots.
There is one primary treatment objective for gum disease: uncover and remove any and all plaque and tartar (hardened plaque). If the infection has advanced no further than surface gum tissues, it may simply be a matter of removing plaque at or just below the gum line with hand instruments called scalers or ultrasonic equipment.
The disease, however, is often discovered in more advanced stages: The initial signs of swollen, reddened or bleeding gums might have been ignored or simply didn't appear. Even so, the objective of plaque and tartar removal remains the same, albeit the procedures may be more invasive.
For example, we may need to surgically access areas deep below the gum line. This involves a procedure called flap surgery, which creates an opening in the gum tissues resembling the flap of an envelope. Once the root or bone is exposed, we can then remove any plaque and/or tartar deposits and perform other actions to boost healing.
Antibiotics or other antibacterial substances might also be needed for stopping an infection in advanced stages. Some like the antibiotic tetracycline can be applied topically to the affected areas to directly stop inflammation and infection; others like mouthrinses with chlorhexidine might be used to fight bacteria for an extended period.
Although effective, treatment for advanced gum disease may need to continue indefinitely. The better approach is to focus on preventing a gum infection through daily brushing and flossing and regular dental cleanings. And at the first sign of problems with your teeth and gums, see us as soon as possible—the earlier in the disease progression that we can begin treatment, the better the outcome.
If you would like more information on preventing 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 “Treating Difficult Areas of Periodontal Disease.”
If your kids are getting ready to start back with in-person school this year, you've no doubt began stocking up on new clothes and classroom supplies. Right before school begins is also a good time to make sure their teeth and gums are in good shape.
Life gets busier for families once the school year begins. It's wise, then, to take advantage of the waning summer break's slower pace to catch up on other concerns, including teeth and gum health. In that regard, here are 4 aspects of dental care deserving attention before the school bell rings in a new year.
Cleanings. Hopefully, your kids are brushing and flossing every day, a habit they've practiced from an early age. But while these hygiene tasks effectively rid the teeth of most of the accumulated dental plaque (the thin bacterial film most responsible for tooth decay), some of it can slip by. A thorough dental cleaning every six months can clear away elusive plaque and tartar (hardened plaque)—and right before the school year begins is a great time.
Checkups. Regular dental visits also make it easier to stay ahead of any developing tooth decay or other dental disease. We have advanced equipment and methods for detecting even the tiniest occurrence of disease—and the earlier we find and treat it, the less damage it can cause. We can also perform preventive procedures like sealants or topical fluoride that reduce the risk of tooth decay.
Bite evaluation. It's also a good idea for a child just starting school (around age 6) to undergo a bite evaluation with an orthodontist. These dental specialists are trained and experienced in detecting jaw and tooth development that's not proceeding on a normal track. It's possible that finding and treating a bite problem early on could help you avoid orthodontic treatment in the future.
Sports protection. In addition to school, many older kids are also preparing for a new sports season, particularly football and basketball. But kids in these and other hard contact sports are also at risk for injury, particularly to the mouth from a hard impact. You can lessen that risk by obtaining an athletic mouthguard for them that cushions any blows to the face and jaw. The best option is a custom mouthguard we create for your child based on their individual dental dimensions.
It takes a lot of time and effort to ensure your child's school year gets off to a good start. Be sure that includes looking after their dental health.
During this year's baseball spring training, Minnesota Twins center fielder Byron Buxton got into a row with a steak dinner—and the beefsteak got the better of it. During his meal, the Gold Glove winner cracked a tooth.
Fortunately, he didn't lose it. Buxton's dentist rescued the tooth with a dental procedure that's been around for over a century—a root canal treatment. The dependable root canal is responsible for saving millions of teeth each year.
Dentists turn to root canal treatments for a number of reasons: a permanent tooth's roots are dissolving (a condition called resorption); chronic inflammation of the innermost tooth pulp due to repeated fillings; or a fractured or cracked tooth, like Buxton's, in which the pulp becomes exposed to bacteria.
One of the biggest reasons, though, is advanced tooth decay. Triggered by acid, a by-product of bacteria, a tooth's enamel softens and erodes, allowing decay into the underlying dentin. In its initial stages, we can often treat decay with a filling. But if the decay continues to advance, it can infect the pulp and root canals and eventually reach the bone.
Decay of this magnitude seriously jeopardizes a tooth's survival. But we can still stop it before that point with a root canal. The basic procedure is fairly straightforward. We begin first by drilling a small hole into the tooth to access the inner pulp and root canals. Using special instruments, we then remove all of the infected tissue within the tooth.
After disinfecting the now empty spaces and reshaping the root canals, we fill the tooth with a rubber-like substance called gutta percha. This, along with filling the access hole, seals the tooth's interior from future infection. In most cases, we'll return sometime later and bond a life-like crown to the tooth (as Buxton's dentist did for him) for added protection and support.
You would think such a procedure would get its own ticker tape parade. Unfortunately, there's a cultural apprehension that root canals are painful. But here's the truth—because your tooth and surrounding gums are numbed by local anesthesia, a root canal procedure doesn't hurt. Actually, if your tooth has been throbbing from tooth decay's attack on its nerves, a root canal treatment will alleviate that pain.
After some time on the disabled list, Buxton was back in the lineup in time to hit his longest homer to date at 456 feet on the Twins' Opening Day. You may not have that kind of moment after a root canal, but repairing a bothersome tooth with this important procedure will certainly get you back on your feet again.
If you would like more information about root canal therapy, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine article “A Step-By-Step Guide to Root Canal Treatment.”
Parents will do just about anything to relieve their children's discomfort when they're in pain. When a toddler is suffering through a teething episode, it's tempting to turn to a topical numbing ointment to soothe their gums.
But there can be a hidden danger for kids if you use certain over-the-counter products used by adults for gum or teeth pain. Many of these topical ointments contain a pain reliever called benzocaine. While it's relatively safe for adults, benzocaine can be hazardous for infants and young children.
Studies have found that benzocaine contributes to a disease called methemoglobinemia, in which a protein in the blood called methemoglobin increases to abnormal levels. Too much of this protein inhibits the transport of oxygen throughout the body. For young children, this can cause shortness of breath, fatigue and dizziness. In extreme cases, it could lead to seizures, coma or even death.
Parents are urged to avoid using any product containing benzocaine to ease gum or teething pain in children. Instead, the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommends providing a child a chilled (not frozen) teething ring, pacifier or a damp clean cloth to chew on. The chewing action helps relieve gum swelling pressure and the cold will help numb the pain. Massaging the gums with a clean finger may also help.
If the pain persists, parents should consult a doctor or pharmacist about giving their child pain medication. Drugs like ibuprofen or acetaminophen (never aspirin) administered in the proper dosage for a child's age can help ease teething discomfort. Medications should always be given orally—you should never rub substances like aspirin or alcohol directly on the gums, which can further irritate already inflamed tissues.
Teething episodes come and go during a child's early dental development—they are like storms that swell and abate before they finally pass. Except when accompanied by fever or diarrhea, there's no need for concern. Your main goal is to help ease their discomfort as much—and as safely—as possible.
We instinctively know when a smile looks normal—and when it doesn't. It could be that something simply looks out of place like crooked teeth. But we might also notice when something is missing—as with one or both of the canine teeth.
The canine teeth align just under the eyes and are recognizable by their pointed ends. When they're missing, the smile looks “incomplete.” But “missing” in this case could mean “invisible”—the teeth are there, but hidden within the gums because they failed to come in properly and became impacted. This often happens on a smaller jaw where other teeth have crowded into the space intended for them.
Fortunately, we may have a remedy, and not just for appearance's sake—any impacted tooth can cause health problems, from gum abscesses to root damage of neighboring teeth. Although this might necessitate their surgical removal, we might also be able to coax them through the gums into better position in the jaw, if they're in a reasonably good position. This could result in both a boost to a patient's oral health and a more normal looking smile.
First, though, a patient will need to undergo a thorough bite evaluation by an orthodontist. Besides pinpointing the impacted teeth's precise location with x-rays or CT technology, an orthodontist will also want to assess the positions and condition of the rest of the teeth. If the conditions are right and there's enough room in the jaw, the orthodontist may recommend drawing the impacted canines into proper alignment in the jaw.
The process starts when an oral surgeon exposes the impacted teeth by surgically cutting through the gum tissue. They then attach a small bracket to the tooth with a tiny metal chain attached, the other end of which is looped over orthodontic hardware attached to other teeth. The tension on the chain by the hardware gradually nudges the teeth downward out of the gums. This is usually done in coordination with other measures to fully correct the bite.
If the procedure is successful, bringing the canines out of impaction reduces the problems those teeth could cause the person's oral health. But just as important, it can restore normality to their smile.
If you would like more information on treating impacted teeth, 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 “Exposing Impacted Canines.”
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