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.”
Breastfeeding is nature's way of providing complete nourishment to a newborn in their first years of life. It can also have a positive impact on their emerging immune system, as well as provide emotional support and stability. But although nursing comes naturally to an infant, there are circumstances that can make it more difficult.
One example is an abnormality that occurs in one in ten babies known as a tongue tie. A tongue tie involves a small band of tissue called a frenum, which connects the underside of the tongue with the floor of the mouth. The frenum, as well as another connecting the inside of the upper lip with the gums, is a normal part of oral anatomy that helps control movement.
But if the frenum is too short, thick or taut, it could restrict the movement of the tongue or lip. This can interfere with the baby acquiring a good seal on the breast nipple that allows them to draw out milk. Instead, the baby may try to chew on the nipple rather than suck on it, leading to an unpleasant experience for both baby and mother.
But this problem can be solved with a minor surgical procedure called a frenotomy (also frenectomy or frenuplasty). It can be a performed in a dentist's office with just a mild numbing agent applied topically to the mouth area (or injected, in rare cases of a thicker frenum) to deaden it. After a few minutes, the baby's tongue is extended to expose the frenum, which is then snipped with scissors or by laser.
There's very little post-op care required (and virtually none if performed with a laser). But there may be a need for a child to “re-learn” how to breastfeed since the abnormal frenum may have caused them to use their oral muscles in a different way to compensate. A lactation expert may be helpful in rehabilitating the baby's muscles to nurse properly.
A restrictive frenum isn't necessarily a dire situation for an infant—they can continue to feed with a bottle filled with formula or pumped breastmilk. But employing this minor procedure can enable them to gain the other benefits associated with breastfeeding.
If you would like more information on tongue ties and other oral abnormalities in children, 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 “Tongue Ties, Lip Ties and Breastfeeding.”
The monarchs of the world experience the same health issues as their subjects—but they often tend to be hush-hush about it. Recently, though, the normally reticent Queen Elizabeth II let some young dental patients in on a lesser known fact about Her Majesty's teeth.
While touring a new dental hospital, the queen told some children being fitted for braces that she too “had wires” once upon a time. She also said, “I think it's worth it in the end.”
The queen isn't the only member of the House of Windsor to need help with a poor bite. Both Princes William and Harry have worn braces, as have other members of the royal family. A propensity for overbites, underbites and other malocclusions (poor bites) can indeed pass down through families, whether of noble or common lineage.
Fortunately, there are many ways to correct congenital malocclusions, depending on their type and severity. Here are 3 of them.
Braces and clear aligners. Braces are the tried and true way to straighten misaligned teeth, while the clear aligner method—removable plastic mouth trays—is the relative “new kid on the block.” Braces are indeed effective for a wide range of malocclusions, but their wires and brackets make it difficult to brush and floss, and they're not particularly attractive. Clear aligners solve both of these issues, though they may not handle more complex malocclusions as well as braces.
Palatal expanders. When the upper jaw develops too narrowly, a malocclusion may result from teeth crowding into too small a space. But before the upper jaw bones fuse together in late childhood, orthodontists can fit a device called a palatal expander inside the upper teeth, which exerts gentle outward pressure on the teeth. This encourages more bone growth in the center to widen the jaw and help prevent a difficult malocclusion from forming.
Specialized braces for impacted teeth. An impacted tooth, which remains partially or completely hidden in the gums, can impede dental health, function and appearance. But we may be able to coax some impacted teeth like the front canines into full eruption. This requires a special orthodontic technique in which a bracket is surgically attached to the impacted tooth's crown. A chain connected to the bracket is then looped over other orthodontic hardware to gradually pull the tooth down where it should be.
Although some techniques like palatal expanders are best undertaken in early dental development, people of any age and reasonably good health can have a problem bite corrected with other methods. If you are among those who benefit from orthodontics, you'll have something in common with the Sovereign of the British Isles: a healthy, attractive and straighter smile.
If you live an average lifespan, you'll spend more than 200,000 hours in blissful slumber. It's not a waste, though: You absolutely need this much sleep to maintain optimum physical and mental health. That's why the National Sleep Foundation recognizes each March as Sleep Awareness Month to highlight the obstacles to a good night's sleep. One such obstacle is obstructive sleep apnea (OSA)—and if you have it, we may be able to help you reduce the harm it may be causing you.
OSA is the blockage of the airway during sleep, usually when the tongue relaxes against the back of the throat. As the oxygen level falls, the brain arouses the sleeper to restore airflow. This only takes a few seconds before the person slips back into sleep, but it can occur several times an hour.
As this scenario repeats itself night after night, the person becomes deprived of the deeper stages of sleep they need to stay healthy. The long-term effect can even be life-threatening: Besides chronic fatigue and “brain fog,” there's also an increased risk of high blood pressure, disease or other serious health conditions.
But there are ways to reduce chronic OSA, the most common being a therapy known as continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP). A CPAP machine, prescribed by a medical doctor, consists of a small pump that streams pressurized air into the mouth through a hose and facemask; the increased air pressure in the mouth helps keep the airway open. It's a proven method, but not always a favorite with some patients who find it uncomfortable and restrictive to wear every night.
If you're in that camp regarding CPAP therapy, an alternative may be possible: oral appliance therapy (OAT), which dentists can provide. Worn in the mouth during sleep, this custom-fitted mouthguard-like appliance repositions the tongue so that it doesn't block the airway. There is a variety of mechanisms, but most involve a hinge that positions the lower jaw forward, which in turn pulls the tongue away from the back of the throat.
These less invasive OAT devices may be an alternative to CPAP therapy for people who have mild to moderate OSA and find CPAP machines difficult to use. If you've been diagnosed with OSA and CPAP therapy hasn't been a good fit for you, speak with us about an OAT device. It could help you overcome this common disorder and get the deep sleep you need for a healthy mind and body.
If you would like more information about a dental approach to obstructive sleep apnea, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine article “Sleep Disorders & Dentistry.”
It wasn't too many years ago that e-cigarettes were promoted as a healthier alternative to traditional cigarettes. “Vaping” was in and “smoking” was out.
But vaping's recent link with certain lung disorders, especially among younger users, has slowed the promotion train down considerably. And if respiratory health isn't enough, there's another reason to be wary of the practice—it's possible effect on oral health.
An e-cigarette is a handheld device with a reservoir that holds a mixture of water, flavoring, nicotine and other chemicals. The device heats up the liquid to transform it into a vapor that's then inhaled by the user. Technically, the vapor is an aerosol, a gaseous substance containing solid particles from chemical compounds.
Within this aerosol are a number of ingredients that can have a harmful effect on your teeth and gums. Foremost among them is nicotine, a chemical that's also a major ingredient in regular tobacco. Nicotine causes constriction of blood vessels, including those supplying the teeth and gums.
As these vessels constrict, they deliver to the teeth and gums fewer nutrients and antibodies to control infection. As a result, users of nicotine products, whether tobacco or e-cigarettes, will have a compounded risk for dental disease over a non-user.
E-cigarettes may in fact be worse than regular cigarettes in regards to nicotine. Cigarette nicotine is primarily inhaled into the lungs, while e-cigarette nicotine is absorbed by the mouth's mucous membranes, a much more efficient transfer. It's estimated that the amount of nicotine in one e-cigarette cartridge equals the nicotine from 20 cigarettes.
Nicotine isn't the only ingredient in e-cigarettes that could harm your mouth. Chemicals within the flavorings can irritate and dry out the mucous membranes of the mouth, as well as damage tooth enamel. There are a variety of other chemicals present like formaldehyde that could raise your risk for oral cancer.
Rather than a healthy alternative to smoking, e-cigarette users may simply be trading one form of health risk for another—and, in the case of your oral health, just as bad or worse. The best alternative for healthier teeth and gums is to leave both habits—smoking and vaping—far behind.
If you would like more information on vaping and 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 “Vaping and Oral Health.”
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