If you’re over age 30 there’s a fifty percent chance you have periodontal (gum) disease—and you may not even know it. Without treatment this often “silent” bacterial infection could cause you to lose gum coverage, supporting bone volume or eventually your teeth.
That’s not to say there can’t be noticeable symptoms like swollen, red, bleeding or painful gums. But the surest way to know if you have gum disease, as well as how advanced it is, is to have us examine your gums with manual probing below the gum line.
Using a long metal device called a periodontal probe, we can detect if you’ve developed periodontal pockets. These are gaps created when the diseased gum’s attachment to teeth has weakened and begun to pull away. The increased void may become inflamed (swollen) and filled with infection.
During an exam we insert the probe, which has markings indicating depths in millimeters, into the naturally occurring space between tooth and gums called the sulcus. Normally, the sulcus extends only about 1-3 mm deep, so being able to probe deeper is a sign of a periodontal pocket. How deep we can probe can also tell us about the extent of the infection: if we can probe to 5 mm, you may have early to mild gum disease; 5-7 mm indicates moderate gum disease; and anything deeper is a sign of advanced disease.
Knowing periodontal pocket depth helps guide our treatment strategy. Our main goal is to remove bacterial plaque, a thin film of food particles that collects on teeth and is the main cause and continuing fuel for the infection. In mild to moderate cases this may only require the use of hand instruments called scalers to manually remove plaque from tooth surfaces.
If, however, our periodontal probing indicates deeper, advanced gum disease, we may need to include surgical procedures to access these infected areas through the gum tissue. By knowing the depth and extent of any periodontal pockets, we can determine whether or not to use these more invasive techniques.
Like many other health conditions, discovering gum disease early could help you avoid these more advanced procedures and limit the damage caused by the infection. Besides daily brushing and flossing to remove plaque and regular dental checkups, keep watch for signs of swollen or bleeding gums and contact us for an appointment as soon as possible. And be aware that if you smoke, your gums will not likely bleed or swell—that could make diagnosis more difficult.
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 article “Understanding Periodontal Pockets.”
When die-hard music fans hear that their favorite performer is canceling a gig, it’s a big disappointment—especially if the excuse seems less than earth-shaking. Recently, British pop sensation Dua Lipa needed to drop two dates from her world tour with Bruno Mars. However, she had a very good reason.
“I’ve been performing with an awful pain due to my wisdom teeth,” the singer tweeted, “and as advised by my dentist and oral surgeon I have had to have them imminently removed.”
The dental problem Lipa had to deal with, impacted wisdom teeth, is not uncommon in young adults. Also called third molars, wisdom teeth are the last teeth to erupt (emerge from beneath the gums), generally making their appearance between the ages of 18-24. But their debut can cause trouble: Many times, these teeth develop in a way that makes it impossible for them to erupt without negatively affecting the healthy teeth nearby. In this situation, the teeth are called “impacted.”
A number of issues can cause impacted wisdom teeth, including a tooth in an abnormal position, a lack of sufficient space in the jaw, or an obstruction that prevents proper emergence. The most common treatment for impaction is to extract (remove) one or more of the wisdom teeth. This is a routine in-office procedure that may be performed by general dentists or dental specialists.
It’s thought that perhaps 7 out of 10 people ages 20-30 have at least one impacted wisdom tooth. Some cause pain and need to be removed right away; however, this is not always the case. If a wisdom tooth is found to be impacted and is likely to result in future problems, it may be best to have it extracted before symptoms appear. Unfortunately, even with x-rays and other diagnostic tests, it isn’t always possible to predict exactly when—or if—the tooth will actually begin causing trouble. In some situations, the best option may be to carefully monitor the tooth at regular intervals and wait for a clearer sign of whether extraction is necessary.
So if you’re around the age when wisdom teeth are beginning to appear, make sure not to skip your routine dental appointments. That way, you might avoid emergency surgery when you’ve got other plans—like maybe your own world tour!
If you would like more information about wisdom tooth extraction, please call our office to arrange a consultation. You can learn more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Wisdom Teeth” and “Removing Wisdom Teeth.”
While it's possible for a teenager to lose a tooth from decay, it's more common they'll lose one from an accidental knockout. If that happens to your teenager, there are some things you should know to achieve a good outcome.
Our top concern is to preserve the underlying bone following tooth loss. Like other tissues, bone has a life cycle: older cells dissolve and are absorbed by the body (resorption), then replaced by new cells. The biting pressure generated when we chew helps stimulate this growth. But bone around a missing tooth lacks this stimulation and may not keep up with resorption at a healthy rate.
This can cause a person to lose some of the bone around an empty tooth socket. To counteract this, we may place a bone graft at the site. Made of bone minerals, usually from a donor, the graft serves as a scaffold for new bone growth. By preventing significant bone loss we can better ensure success with a future restoration.
Because of its lifelikeness, functionality and durability, dental implants are considered the best of the restoration options that can be considered to replace a missing tooth. But placing an implant during the teen years is problematic because the jaws are still growing. If we place an implant prematurely it will appear to be out of alignment when the jaw fully matures. Better to wait until the jaw finishes development in early adulthood.
In the meantime, there are a couple of temporary options that work well for teens: a removable partial denture (RFP) or a fixed modified bridge. The latter is similar to bridges made for adults, but uses tabs of dental material that bond a prosthetic (false) tooth to the adjacent natural teeth to hold it in place. This alleviates the need to permanently alter the adjacent natural teeth and buy time so that the implant can be placed after growth and development has finished.
And no need to worry about postponing orthodontic treatment in the event of a tooth loss. In most cases we can go ahead with treatment, and may even be able to incorporate a prosthetic tooth into the braces or clear aligners.
It's always unfortunate to lose a tooth, especially from a sudden accident. The good news, though, is that with proper care and attention we can restore your teenager's smile.
If you would like more information on how to treat lost teeth in teenagers, 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.”
If you’re considering a dental implant as a replacement for a lost tooth, you’re looking at a restoration method with an amazing 95% success rate after ten years. But that being said there’s still a risk, albeit quite low, the implant might fail.
And if you smoke, the risk is slightly higher. In a recent study of implant patients, twice as many of the failures occurred in smokers compared to non-smokers. If you’re a smoker, you can increase your chances of a successful outcome if you quit the habit.
Nicotine, a chemical within tobacco, is the primary cause for this higher risk. Besides its effect on the pleasure centers of the brain, nicotine also restricts smaller blood vessels that are abundant in the mouth and skin, causing less blood flow. As a result, the mouth doesn’t have as many antibodies and other substances available to fight infection and help traumatized tissues heal.
Because of this, as well as reduced saliva flow due to the habit, smokers have an increased risk of dental disease and are slower to respond to treatment. This can be especially problematic if the gum tissues around an implant become infected, which could lead to a catastrophic failure. Slower healing also impacts the post-surgery period when bone cells in the jaw are growing and adhering to the implant surface, forming a stronger bond.
To avoid these potential risks you should stop smoking before you undergo implant surgery. If you can’t completely kick the habit, you should at least stop a week before surgery and for two weeks after. It’s also critical that you practice good oral hygiene — both brushing and flossing — to minimize the occurrence of dental disease and see us for regular checkups and maintenance appointments.
Taking these steps will greatly increase your chances of being in the vast majority of people who continue to enjoy success with their implants for many years.
If you would like more information on the impact of smoking 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 “Dental Implants & Smoking.”
Your gums can take a lot — they’re resilient and they endure a variety of abrasive foods over a lifetime. But resilience isn’t the same as invulnerability: your gums can be weakened by periodontal (gum) disease or by over-aggressive brushing that causes them to shrink away (recede) from the teeth they protect.
Unfortunately, it’s not a rare problem — millions suffer from some degree of gum recession, caused mainly by gum disease. This aggressive infection arises from bacteria in dental plaque, a thin film that builds up on tooth surfaces due to inadequate oral hygiene. Fortunately, gum disease can be effectively treated in its early stages by removing plaque above and below the gum line. Diseased gums will quickly rebound to their normal health.
Unfortunately, though, heavily recessed gums from advanced stages of gum disease (as well as those who’ve inherited thinner gum tissues and are more susceptible to recession) may not come back fully without help. This can affect the health and survival of affected teeth, as well as your appearance.
Plastic periodontal surgery can help restore these lost tissues. There are a number of procedures that can be used depending on the exact nature of the recession, and most involve some form of tissue grafting. A specimen of donated gum tissue (either from another portion of the patient’s gums or a thoroughly cleansed and properly processed donation from another person) is surgically attached to the gums at the recession site.
The graft can be completely freed from the harvest area or in some cases a part of it remains attached to receive blood supply while the rest is grafted to the site. These procedures, especially the latter, require meticulous skill and sophisticated microsurgical techniques to make an effective attachment. If the tooth root is involved, it must be thoroughly prepared beforehand through polishing and decontamination to ensure the new graft will take. The graft is sutured in place and sometimes covered with a moldable dressing for protection.
As the area heals, the tissues begin to grow around the graft, restoring better coverage for the tooth. Coupled with comprehensive gum disease treatment, this form of plastic surgery can restore new health to teeth and a transformed smile.
If you would like more information on treating gum recession with plastic surgery, 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 “Periodontal Plastic Surgery.”
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