Many people learn they have periodontal (gum) disease after noticing gum swelling, soreness or bleeding. But what you can see or feel may be only the tip of the iceberg — the damage may extend much deeper.
Gum disease is caused mainly by dental plaque, a thin film of bacteria and food particles built up on teeth due to ineffective brushing and flossing. Infection of the visible gums is only the beginning — left untreated, it can advance well below the gum line and even infect supporting bone.
One critical concern in this regard is the areas where the roots of a tooth separate from each other, known as furcations. Here an infection known as a furcation invasion can cause the bone to weaken and dissolve.
This usually occurs in stages (or classes) we can detect through manual probing and/or with x-rays. In the earliest stage, Class I, we might only notice a slight pocket in the gums with no significant bone loss. In Class II, though, the pocket between the roots has become a horizontal opening of two or more millimeters, indicating definite bone loss with increased pocket depth getting “under” the crown of the tooth. Class III, the last and most serious stage, describes an opening we can probe under the crown all the way to the other side of the tooth; the bone loss now extends “through and through” the furcation.
The basic goal of gum disease treatment is to remove plaque and calculus (tartar) from all tooth and gum surfaces. But removing plaque below the gum line, especially “into” the furcations, can be challenging. We will need instruments called scalers to clean root surfaces, assisted sometimes by ultrasonic equipment to vibrate plaque loose. With furcations we may also need to employ surgery to aid gum or bone tissue regeneration or to make the area easier to access for future cleaning.
Of course, the best way to protect against furcation invasions is to prevent gum disease in the first place. Be sure to brush and floss daily and visit us for thorough dental cleanings and checkups at least every six months.
And don’t delay contacting us if you see any signs of teeth or gum problems. The sooner we can identify gum disease, the more likely we’ll be able to prevent it from doing serious damage to your gums, bone and teeth.
If you would like more information on 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 “What are Furcations?”
It's no secret that many of Hollywood's brightest stars didn't start out with perfectly aligned, pearly-white teeth. And these days, plenty of celebs are willing to share their stories, showing how dentists help those megawatt smiles shine. In a recent interview with W magazine, Emma Stone, the stunning 28-year-old star of critically-acclaimed films like La La Land and Birdman, explained how orthodontic appliances helped her overcome problems caused by a harmful habit: persistent thumb sucking in childhood.
“I sucked my thumb until I was 11 years old,” she admitted, mischievously adding “It's still so soothing to do it.” Although it may have been comforting, the habit spelled trouble for her bite. “The roof of my mouth is so high-pitched that I had this huge overbite,” she said. “I got this gate when I was in second grade… I had braces, and then they put a gate.”
While her technical terminology isn't quite accurate, Stone is referring to a type of appliance worn in the mouth which dentists call a “tongue crib” or “thumb/finger appliance.” The purpose of these devices is to stop children from engaging in “parafunctional habits” — that is, behaviors like thumb sucking or tongue thrusting, which are unrelated to the normal function of the mouth and can cause serious bite problems. (Other parafunctional habits include nail biting, pencil chewing and teeth grinding.)
When kids develop the habit of regularly pushing the tongue against the front teeth (tongue thrusting) or sucking on an object placed inside the mouth (thumb sucking), the behavior can cause the front teeth to be pushed out of alignment. When the top teeth move forward, the condition is commonly referred to as an overbite. In some cases a more serious situation called an “open bite” may develop, which can be difficult to correct. Here, the top and bottom front teeth do not meet or overlap when the mouth is closed; instead, a vertical gap is left in between.
Orthodontic appliances are often recommended to stop harmful oral habits from causing further misalignment. Most appliances are designed with a block (or gate) that prevents the tongue or finger from pushing on the teeth; this is what the actress mentioned. Normally, when the appliance is worn for a period of months it can be expected to modify the child's behavior. Once the habit has been broken, other appliances like traditional braces or clear aligners can be used to bring the teeth into better alignment.
But in Stone's case, things didn't go so smoothly. “I'd take the gate down and suck my thumb underneath the mouth appliance,” she admitted, “because I was totally ignoring the rule to not suck your thumb while you're trying to straighten out your teeth.” That rule-breaking ended up costing the aspiring star lots of time: she spent a total of 7 years wearing braces.
Fortunately, things worked out for the best for Emma Stone: She now has a brilliant smile and a stellar career — plus a shiny new Golden Globe award! Does your child have a thumb sucking problem or another harmful oral habit? For more information about how to correct it, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can learn more in the Dear Doctor magazine article “How Thumb Sucking Affects the Bite.”
Sometimes dental conditions point to health problems beyond the teeth and gums. An astute dentist may even be able to discern that a person’s oral problems actually arise from issues with their emotional well-being.Â In fact, a visit to the dentist could uncover the presence of two of the most prominent eating disorders, bulimia nervosa or anorexia nervosa.
Here are 3 signs dentists look for that may indicate an eating disorder.
Dental Erosion. Ninety percent of patients with bulimia and twenty percent with anorexia have some form of enamel erosion. This occurs because stomach acid — which can soften and erode enamel — enters the mouth during self-induced vomiting (purging), a prominent behavior with bulimics and somewhat with anorexics. This erosion looks different from other causes because the tongue rests against the back of the bottom teeth during vomiting, shielding them from much of the stomach acid. As a result, erosion is usually more severe on the upper front teeth, particularly on the tongue side and biting edges.
Enlarged Salivary Glands. A person induces vomiting during purging by using their fingers or other objects. This irritates soft tissues in the back of the throat like the salivary glands and causes them to swell. A dentist or hygienist may notice redness on the inside of the throat or puffiness on the outside of the face just below the ears.
Over-Aggressive Brushing. Bulimics are acutely aware of their appearance and often practice diligent hygiene habits. This includes brushing the teeth, especially after a purging episode. In doing so they may become too aggressive and, coupled with brushing right after purging when the minerals in enamel are softened, cause even greater erosion.
Uncovering a family member’s eating disorder can be stressful for all involved. In the long run, it’s best to seek out professional help and guidance — a good place to start is the National Eating Disorders Association (www.nationaleatingdisorders.org). While you’re seeking help, you can also minimize dental damage by encouraging the person to rinse with water (or a little baking soda) after purging to neutralize any acid in the mouth, as well as avoid brushing for an hour.
If you would like more information on the effect of eating disorders on oral 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.”
Did you see the move Cast Away starring Tom Hanks? If so, you probably remember the scene where Hanks, stranded on a remote island, knocks out his own abscessed tooth — with an ice skate, no less — to stop the pain. Recently, Dear Doctor TV interviewed Gary Archer, the dental technician who created that special effect and many others.
“They wanted to have an abscess above the tooth with all sorts of gunk and pus and stuff coming out of it,” Archer explained. “I met with Tom and I took impressions [of his mouth] and we came up with this wonderful little piece. It just slipped over his own natural teeth.” The actor could flick it out with his lower tooth when the time was right during the scene. It ended up looking so real that, as Archer said, “it was not for the easily squeamish!”
That’s for sure. But neither is a real abscess, which is an infection that becomes sealed off beneath the gum line. An abscess may result from a trapped piece of food, uncontrolled periodontal (gum) disease, or even an infection deep inside a tooth that has spread to adjacent periodontal tissues. In any case, the condition can cause intense pain due to the pressure that builds up in the pus-filled sac. Prompt treatment is required to relieve the pain, keep the infection from spreading to other areas of the face (or even elsewhere in the body), and prevent tooth loss.
Treatment involves draining the abscess, which usually stops the pain immediately, and then controlling the infection and removing its cause. This may require antibiotics and any of several in-office dental procedures, including gum surgery, a root canal, or a tooth extraction. But if you do have a tooth that can’t be saved, we promise we won’t remove it with an ice skate!
The best way to prevent an abscess from forming in the first place is to practice conscientious oral hygiene. By brushing your teeth twice each day for two minutes, and flossing at least once a day, you will go a long way towards keeping harmful oral bacteria from thriving in your mouth.
If you have any questions about gum disease or abscesses, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can learn more by reading the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Periodontal (Gum) Abscesses” and “Confusing Tooth Pain.”
As in other parts of medicine, lasers are beginning to change the way we provide dental care. More and more dentists are using lasers to make earlier diagnoses of dental disease or provide surgical treatment. One area prime for change is the treatment of teeth with deep decay and in danger of being lost.
For decades now, the best way to save teeth in this condition is with root canal treatment. In this common procedure we access the pulp, remove the infected tissue with specialized hand instruments, and then fill and seal the pulp chamber and root canals with a special filling.
We can now potentially improve the efficiency and increase the success rate of this treatment with laser technology. With their focused light, lasers emit a concentrated burst of energy that's extremely precise. In many instances laser energy can remove the target diseased tissue without damaging nearby healthy tissue.
In this form of root canal treatment, we use lasers to remove tissue and organic debris within the pulp and then shape the root canal walls to better receive the filling. We can also utilize the heat from laser energy to soften and mold the filling, so that it better conforms within the walls of the root canals.
Using lasers in root canal treatments may require less local anesthesia than the traditional approach and also eliminates disturbing or discomforting sounds and vibrations. Dentists who've used the new technology also report less bleeding during the procedure and less pain and occurrences of infection afterwards.
But there are a couple of disadvantages for using lasers in root canal treatment. For one, light travels in a straight line — and many root canal networks are anything but straight. More complex root canal networks may still require the traditional approach. Laser energy could also increase the tooth's inner temperature, which could potentially damage tissues even on the tooth's outer surfaces.
Used in the right circumstances, though, lasers can be an effective means to treat diseased teeth. Â As laser technology continues to advance and becomes a mainstay in dental care, you may soon find it part of your next dental procedure.
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