While tooth decay seems to get most of the “media attention,” there’s another oral infection just as common and destructive: periodontal (gum) disease. In fact, nearly half of adults over 30 have some form of it.
And like tooth decay, it begins with bacteria: while most are benign or even beneficial, a few strains of these micro-organisms can cause gum disease. They thrive and multiply in a thin, sticky film of food particles on tooth surfaces called plaque. Though not always apparent early on, you may notice symptoms like swollen, reddened or bleeding gums.
The real threat, though, is that untreated gum disease will advance deeper below the gum line, infecting the connective gum tissues, tooth roots and supporting bone. If it’s not stopped, affected teeth can lose support from these structures and become loose or out of position. Ultimately, you could lose them.
We can stop this disease by removing accumulated plaque and calculus (calcified plaque, also known as tartar) from the teeth, which continues to feed the infection. To reach plaque deposits deep below the gum line, we may need to surgically access them through the gums. Even without surgery, it may still take several cleaning sessions to remove all of the plaque and calculus found.
These treatments are effective for stopping gum disease and allowing the gums to heal. But there’s a better way: preventing gum disease before it begins through daily oral hygiene. In most cases, plaque builds up due to a lack of brushing and flossing. It takes only a few days without practicing these important hygiene tasks for early gingivitis to set in.
You should also visit the dentist at least twice a year for professional cleanings and checkups. A dental cleaning removes plaque and calculus from difficult to reach places. Your dentist also uses the visit to evaluate how well you’re doing with your hygiene efforts, and offer advice on how you can improve.
Like tooth decay, gum disease can rob you of your dental health. But it can be stopped—both you and your dentist can keep this infection from ruining your smile.
September is National Gum Care Month, an ideal time to talk about how to keep your gums healthy. Unfortunately, nearly half of adults have gum disease, which can damage the soft tissue and bone supporting the teeth. In fact, advanced gum disease is the number one reason for tooth loss among adults, and it’s associated with other health problems, including cardiovascular disease, diabetes and pregnancy complications. But there’s good news—gum disease is preventable and, in its early stages, even reversible. Here are some tips for taking care of your gums:
Keep up a good oral hygiene routine
Gum disease begins with plaque buildup, so attack the plaque in your mouth with good dental hygiene. Spend two minutes morning and night brushing all surfaces of your teeth, and floss once a day to get rid of plaque that forms between teeth.
Use a soft toothbrush
The American Dental Association recommends brushing gently with a soft toothbrush. Hard bristles can damage your gums and cause them to pull away from the teeth.
Swish with a mouth rinse
Consider using a mouth rinse. Over-the-counter and prescription oral rinses are available to help wash away food debris, reduce plaque and fight gum inflammation.
Say no to tobacco
Smoking is one of the biggest risk factors for developing gum disease. And it’s not just cigarettes but all forms of tobacco, including e-cigarettes, pipes and chewing tobacco, that raise your risk of gum disease.
Eat a healthy diet
For the best gum health, avoid refined carbohydrates (sugary and starchy foods) and make sure you are getting enough vitamin C, vitamin D and antioxidants (found in berries and green tea, for example). In addition, studies suggest that a diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids may reduce your risk of gum disease and other inflammatory conditions. These healthy fats are found in many fish, nuts, seeds, soy products and vegetable oils.
Come in for regular cleanings
Professional dental cleanings can remove plaque from the tiny spaces that are difficult to reach by simply brushing and flossing. And once plaque hardens to form calculus (tartar), it cannot be removed during your regular oral health care routine at home. Further, at the dental office we can detect gum disease in its early stages—and the earlier gum problems are caught, the more easily they can be reversed.
Your smile may look healthy, but something quite unhealthy may be going on behind it. Unbeknownst to you, periodontal (gum) disease could even now be damaging tissues and bone that could lead to tooth loss. Caused by plaque, a thin film of food remnant and bacteria built up on the teeth due to poor oral hygiene, gum disease can aggressively spread deep into gum tissues without you even realizing it.
If you pay close attention to your gums, however, it’s still possible to pick up signs of the disease, even during its early “silent” stage. As the infection progresses, the signs will become more frequent — and consequential.
Here are 4 signs of gum disease you should definitely keep on your radar.
Bleeding. Unless you’re doing it too hard, healthy gums won’t normally bleed when you’re brushing or flossing. If they do bleed with just light to moderate pressure, it’s a sign the tissues have been inflamed and weakened by the infection.
Inflammation and redness. If you notice your gums seem swollen or reddened, it could mean they’re inflamed. Inflammation is the body’s response for fighting infection — however, if the inflammation becomes chronic it can actually damage the tissue it’s trying to protect.
Abscesses. These are localized areas in the gums where the infection has become isolated. They’ll typically be more swollen than surrounding gum tissues and are often filled with pus. They can also be sensitive to the touch and painful. Any sore spot like this that lasts for more than a few days should be examined.
Loose or moving teeth. Teeth that can move in the socket or appear to have shifted their position are signs of an advanced stage of gum disease. It’s an indication the gum and bone tissue that hold teeth in place have been weakened and are losing their attachment. Without immediate treatment, it’s just a matter of time before the teeth are lost altogether.
If you notice any of these signs, you should see us as soon as possible for a complete exam. The sooner we’re able to diagnose gum disease and begin treatment, the less likely it will permanently harm your teeth and gums.
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 “When to See a Periodontist.”
Some moviegoers have been known to crunch popcorn, bite their fingers or grab their neighbor’s hands during the intense scenes of a thriller. But for one fan, the on-screen action in the new superhero film Black Panther led to a different reaction.
Sophia Robb, an 18-year-old Californian, had to make an emergency visit to the orthodontic office because she snapped the steel wire on her retainer while watching a battle scene featuring her Hollywood crush, Michael B. Jordan. Her jaw-clenching mishap went viral and even prompted an unexpected reply from the actor himself!
Meanwhile, Sophia got her retainer fixed pronto—which was exactly the right thing to do. The retention phase is a very important part of orthodontic treatment: If you don’t wear a retainer, the beautiful new smile you’re enjoying could become crooked again. That’s because if the teeth are not held in their new positions, they will naturally begin to drift back into their former locations—and you may have to start treatment all over again…
While it’s much more common to lose a removable retainer than to damage one, it is possible for even sturdy retainers to wear out or break. This includes traditional plastic-and-wire types (also called Hawley retainers), clear plastic retainers that are molded to fit your teeth (sometimes called Essix retainers), and bonded retainers: the kind that consists of a wire that’s permanently attached to the back side of your teeth. So whichever kind you use, do what Sophia did if you feel that anything is amiss—have it looked at right away!
When Black Panther co-star Michael B. Jordan heard about the retainer mishap, he sent a message to the teen: “Since I feel partly responsible for breaking your retainers let me know if I can replace them.” His young fan was grateful for the offer—but even more thrilled to have a celebrity twitter follower.
If you have questions about orthodontic retainers, please contact our office or schedule a consultation. You can read more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “The Importance of Orthodontic Retainers” and “Bonded Retainers.”
Losing a tooth from disease or accident can be traumatic. The good news, though, is that it can be replaced with a life-like replica that restores your smile. One of the most popular and durable solutions is a dental implant, which replaces not only the root of the tooth but the crown as well.
But there's a possible wrinkle with implants — for accurate placement there must be a sufficient amount of bone around it. This could be a problem if you've been missing the tooth for sometime: without the stimulus provided by a tooth as you chew, older bone cells aren't replaced at an adequate rate. The bone volume gradually diminishes, as up to 25% of its normal width can be lost during the first year after tooth loss. A traumatic injury can damage underlying bone to an even greater extent.
There is a possible solution, but it will require the services of other specialists, particularly a periodontist trained in gum and bone structure. The first step is a complete examination of the mouth to gauge the true extent of any bone loss. While x-rays play a crucial role, a CT scan in particular provides a three-dimensional view of the jaw and more detail on any bone loss.
With a more accurate bone loss picture, we can then set about actually creating new bone through grafting procedures. One such technique is called a ridge augmentation: after opening the gum tissues, we place the bone graft within a barrier membrane to protect it. Over time the bone will grow replacing both the grafting material and membrane structure.
Once we have enough regenerated bone, we can then perform dental implant surgery. There are two options: a “one-stage” procedure in which a temporary crown is placed on the implant immediately after surgery; or a “two-stage” in which we place the gum tissue over the implant to protect it as it heals and bone grows and attaches to it. In cases of pre-surgical bone grafting, it's usually best to go with the two-stage procedure for maximum protection while the bone strengthens around it.
Necessary preparation of the bone for a future dental implant takes time. But the extra effort will pay off with a new smile you'll be proud to display.
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