There's a lot of emphasis — well-placed, of course — on preventing and treating tooth decay. But there's another dental disease just as dangerous to your oral health and nearly half of U.S. adults have it. It's actually a group of diseases known collectively as periodontal (gum) disease.
Gum disease is similar to tooth decay in one respect: they're both triggered by bacteria. These microorganisms thrive in a thin film of food particles called plaque that collects on tooth surfaces.
Certain bacteria can infect gum tissues and trigger inflammation, a response from the body's immune system to fight it. As the battle rages, bone loss can occur and the gums weaken and begin to detach from the teeth. Without treatment, you could eventually lose affected teeth.
Like tooth decay, the best approach with gum disease is to prevent it, and by using the same techniques of daily brushing and flossing. These actions loosen and remove plaque built up since your last brushing. It's also important you visit us at least twice a year for cleanings that remove hard to reach plaque and calculus (hardened plaque deposits).
If despite your best efforts you do contract gum disease, the sooner you see us for treatment the lower the long-term impact on your health. The treatment aim is the same as your daily hygiene: to remove plaque and calculus. We use specialized hand instruments or ultrasound equipment to mechanically remove plaque; more advanced cases may require the skills of a periodontist who specializes in caring for structures like the gums that support teeth.
So, defend yourself against gum disease by brushing and flossing daily, and visiting us regularly for dental cleanings and checkups. If you notice bleeding, swollen or painful gums, see us as soon as possible for diagnosis and treatment. Don't let tooth decay's evil twin ruin your oral health or your smile.
If you would like more information on the prevention and treatment of 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 “When to See a Periodontist.”
With college, a full-time job and an upcoming wedding to plan, Brooke Vitense had the hectic life of an average young woman in her twenties. But a chance discovery one morning would completely upend her normal life.
That morning Brook noticed white spots on the underside of her tongue while brushing her teeth. Not long after, she pointed out the spots to her dentist during her regular dental checkup. He recommended having the spots biopsied, just to be safe. She needed a wisdom tooth removed, so she scheduled the biopsy with her oral surgeon to coincide with the tooth extraction.
She soon forgot about the biopsy — until her dentist contacted her about the results. The lesions were pre-cancerous: he recommended she have them and a portion of her tongue removed surgically as soon as possible.
She underwent the procedure, but that wasn't the end of her ordeal. The follow-up pathology report indicated cancerous cells in the tissue excised during the procedure. To ensure elimination of any remaining cancerous cells they would need to remove more of her tongue as well as the lymph nodes from her neck.
Brooke survived her cancer experience and has since resumed her life. Her story, though, highlights some important facts about oral cancer.
Oral cancer is life-threatening. Although cases of oral cancer are rarer than other types of malignancies, the survival rate is low (50%). This is because lesions or other abnormalities are often dismissed as simple sores. Like any cancer, the earlier it's detected and treated, the better the chances for survival.
Anyone of any age can develop oral cancer. While most cases occur in older adults, young and otherwise healthy people like Brooke are not immune. It's important for everyone to make healthy lifestyle choices (good oral hygiene and nutrition, moderate alcohol use and avoidance of tobacco) and see a dentist whenever you see an abnormal sore or spot in your mouth.
Regular dental checkups are crucial for early detection. Had Brooke not seen her dentist soon after discovering the spots on her tongue, her survivability could have been drastically lower. Regular dental visits (and cancer screenings if you're at high risk) could mean all the difference in the world.
If you would like more information on the signs and treatment of oral cancer, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can watch Brooke's interview by visiting How a Routine Dental Visit Saved My Life
It takes only a few days of inadequate oral hygiene for bacterial plaque to trigger the periodontal (gum) disease gingivitis. Though sometimes subtle, there are signs to watch for like inflamed, reddened or bleeding gums.
Untreated gingivitis can develop into more advanced forms of gum disease that infect deeper levels of the gums and supporting bone and ultimately cause bone and tooth loss. Fortunately, though, prompt treatment by a dentist removing plaque from teeth and gums, along with you reinstituting daily brushing and flossing, can stop gingivitis and help restore health to your gums.
If you’re under acute stress or anxiety, however, basic gingivitis can develop into something much more serious and painful, a condition called Acute Necrotizing Ulcerative Gingivitis (ANUG). It’s also known as “trench mouth” from its common occurrence among World War I soldiers experiencing stressful periods in front line trenches without the means for proper oral hygiene.
ANUG develops from a “perfect storm” of conditions: besides anxiety and deficient hygiene practices, ANUG has a high occurrence risk in people who smoke (which dries the mouth and changes the normal populations of oral bacteria) or have issues with general health or nutrition.
In contrast to many cases of basic gingivitis, ANUG can produce highly noticeable symptoms. The gum tissues begin to die and become ulcerative and yellowish in appearance. This can create very bad breath and taste along with extreme gum pain.
The good news is ANUG can be treated and completely reversed if caught early. In addition to plaque removal, the dentist or periodontist (a specialist in the treatment of gum disease) may prescribe antibiotics along with an antibacterial mouthrinse to reduce bacteria levels in the mouth. A person with ANUG may also need pain relief, usually with over-the-counter drugs like aspirin or ibuprofen.
It’s important that you seek treatment as soon as possible if you suspect you have ANUG or any gum disease. It’s possible to lose tissue, particularly the papillae (the small triangle of tissue between teeth), which can have an adverse effect on your appearance. You can also reduce your risk by quitting smoking, addressing any stress issues, and practicing diligent, daily oral hygiene and visiting your dentist for cleanings and checkups twice a year or more if needed.
If you would like more information on the signs and treatments for 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 “Painful Gums in Teens & Adults.”
The March 27th game started off pretty well for NBA star Kevin Love. His team, the Cleveland Cavaliers, were coming off a 5-game winning streak as they faced the Miami Heat that night. Less than two minutes into the contest, Love charged in for a shot on Heat center Jordan Mickey—but instead of a basket, he got an elbow in the face that sent him to the floor (and out of the game) with an injury to his mouth.
In pictures from the aftermath, Love’s front tooth seemed clearly out of position. According to the Cavs’ official statement, “Love suffered a front tooth subluxation.” But what exactly does that mean, and how serious is his injury?
The dental term “subluxation” refers to one specific type of luxation injury—a situation where a tooth has become loosened or displaced from its proper location. A subluxation is an injury to tooth-supporting structures such as the periodontal ligament: a stretchy network of fibrous tissue that keeps the tooth in its socket. The affected tooth becomes abnormally loose, but as long as the nerves inside the tooth and the underlying bone have not been damaged, it generally has a favorable prognosis.
Treatment of a subluxation injury may involve correcting the tooth’s position immediately and/or stabilizing the tooth—often by temporarily splinting (joining) it to adjacent teeth—and maintaining a soft diet for a few weeks. This gives the injured tissues a chance to heal and helps the ligament regain proper attachment to the tooth. The condition of tooth’s pulp (soft inner tissue) must also be closely monitored; if it becomes infected, root canal treatment may be needed to preserve the tooth.
So while Kevin Love’s dental dilemma might have looked scary in the pictures, with proper care he has a good chance of keeping the tooth. Significantly, Love acknowledged on Twitter that the damage “…could have been so much worse if I wasn’t protected with [a] mouthguard.”
Love’s injury reminds us that whether they’re played at a big arena, a high school gym or an outdoor court, sports like basketball (as well as baseball, football and many others) have a high potential for facial injuries. That’s why all players should wear a mouthguard whenever they’re in the game. Custom-made mouthguards, available for a reasonable cost at the dental office, are the most comfortable to wear, and offer protection that’s superior to the kind available at big-box retailers.
If you have questions about dental injuries or custom-made mouthguards, please contact our office or schedule a consultation. You can read more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “The Field-Side Guide to Dental Injuries” and “Athletic Mouthguards.”
With exciting innovations in cosmetic dentistry over the last few decades, we can now transform nearly any unattractive smile. One of the best and most cost-effective of these is the porcelain veneer. These thin layers of dental porcelain are bonded over the front of chipped, slightly misaligned or stained teeth to create an entirely new look.
Veneers have evolved over time, especially with the materials they contain that give them their beauty and life-likeness. The first veneers were made mainly of feldspathic porcelain, a mineral composition known for its similarity in color and translucence to natural teeth.
But because this early porcelain had a high amount of silica (in essence, glass), and because they were created through overlaying several thin layers that weren’t as strong as a single piece, they were prone to shattering. This made them problematic for teeth subject to heavy biting forces or patients with clenching or grinding habits.
The situation changed dramatically in the 1990s, when dental labs began adding Leucite, a sturdier glass-like mineral that didn’t diminish the porcelain’s translucence. Not only did Leucite make veneers more shatter-resistant, it also enabled dental technicians to fashion most of the veneer in one piece to further strengthen it.
More recent veneers may now incorporate an even stronger material called lithium disilicate. Because lithium disilicate has twice the strength of Leucite, veneers made with it can be as thin as 0.3 millimeters. Not only does this blend together the most desirable qualities expected of a veneer—strength, aesthetic appeal and easy fabrication—it allows for a broader range of situations and uses.
Both of these materials can be pressed or milled to assume the exact shape necessary to fit a particular tooth. The manufacturing process also allows for creating smaller veneers that can then be overlaid with porcelain for the most life-like appearance possible.
Thanks to these stronger materials enhancing the natural beauty of porcelain, we now have a wider creative palate for transforming your smile.
If you would like more information on porcelain veneers, 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: Your Smile—Better Than Ever.”
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