In the world of movies and television, the lead actors get the lion’s share of the credit. In reality, though, there wouldn’t be much of a show without the supporting cast. You’ll find a similar situation in your mouth: While your teeth get most of the attention, another dental structure plays a critical supporting role—your gums.
It’s only fitting, then, that we put the spotlight on your gums, especially in February. The second month of the year is Gum Disease Awareness Month, when we highlight the importance of our gums and the dangers they face.
While the gums are an important part of your smile, they’re not just for show. Your gums play a critical role in helping to keep your teeth securely attached within the jaw. Their network of blood vessels also supplies nutrients and disease-fighting agents to your teeth. We’re not exaggerating, then, when we say your teeth can’t survive without them.
But although they’re resilient, they do have one major vulnerability: a bacterial infection known as periodontal (gum) disease. Gum disease arises from bacteria that thrive within a thin, built-up film of bacteria and food particles called dental plaque. Untreated, an infection can advance deep into the gums, down to the tooth roots and jawbone.
Gum disease is as much a problem for your teeth as it is for your gums: Weakened gum attachment and loss of bone can put your teeth in danger of being lost. Fortunately, though, there are things you can do to keep gum disease from ruining your dental health.
Brush and floss. To prevent a gum infection, you must keep plaque from building up on your teeth. The best way is a combination of thorough brushing and flossing. Don’t neglect the latter, which is necessary to remove hard-to-reach plaque between teeth. And do it every day—it doesn’t take long for a gum infection to occur.
Get your teeth cleaned. Even the most diligent hygiene practice may still miss some plaque and its hardened form calculus (tartar). These stubborn deposits, though, are no match for our dental cleaning equipment and techniques. Semi-annual visits are also a good time to evaluate your overall dental health, including your gums.
See us at the first sign of infection. Gum disease is often symptomless, especially in the beginning. But there are signs to look for like gum swelling, redness or bleeding. If you notice any of these, see us as soon as possible. The sooner you begin treatment, the less harm the disease will cause.
Taking care of your gums isn’t just good for your dental health—it’s good for your overall health and well-being. It also doesn’t hurt that your gums are good for your appearance as an important part of a beautiful smile.
If you would like more information about gum disease prevention and treatment, please contact us or schedule a consultation.
This year's Carol Burnett Award, presented at the Golden Globes, goes to Ellen DeGeneres for her “outstanding contributions to the television medium on or off the screen.” This is the latest in a long list of honors for the comedienne, talk show host and activist that includes Emmys, Grammys and Teen Choice Awards. And one not quite as well-known: a 2004 “Flossy” award.
DeGeneres received this honor from the National Flossing Council in recognition of her passionate promotion of oral hygiene, particularly flossing. She wrote about its virtues in her 2003 book, The Funny Thing Is…., saying, among other things, “Don't even think for a second that you can get away with not flossing.”
DeGeneres's motivational cheerleading for flossing is helpful and necessary because, well, many of us just don't like doing it. It requires more manual dexterity than its more popular sibling, brushing. And the tendency for the floss to gunk up with plaque residue for some is simply unpleasant.
Mainly, though, many folks think brushing is enough. Not so fast, according to dental professionals. While brushing removes disease-causing bacterial plaque from broad tooth surfaces, it can't effectively get into the spaces between teeth. It takes flossing to clear plaque from these more difficult areas.
But don't fret: There are ways to make flossing an easier—and more pleasant—task.
Ask us for help. As we said before, flossing does take some hand dexterity and coordination to perform. You may also wonder if you're doing it effectively. We can provide training and tips on how to be a more effective flosser at your next visit.
Practice, practice, practice. You probably think nothing of riding a bicycle, and yet it probably took you weeks or months as a kid to become proficient. Similarly, your first attempts at flossing might feel awkward, but you'll improve with practice, so don't give up.
Brush before you floss. Most people floss before brushing, but if you tend to encounter a lot of soft plaque debris that makes flossing “icky” for you, then try brushing first to clear a good portion of it out of the way before you floss. Just be aware, most professionals believe that flossing first is better because it loosens up debris between teeth so the bubbles from the toothpaste can carry it away. But any flossing is better than no flossing!
Try flossing tools. For some people, floss picks, small pre-threaded tools you can use with one hand, seem easier to maneuver than regular floss thread. If you have issues with manual dexterity, an oral irrigator can make the task easier: This handheld device uses a stream of pressurized water to loosen and flush away plaque between teeth.
So, follow Ellen DeGeneres's advice she gave Tulane University graduates during a commencement speech: “Remember to exfoliate, moisturize, exercise…and floss.” The latter, along with brushing, will certainly help keep your teeth and gums healthy.
Besides their life-likeness, implants are also prized for their high success rate. More than ninety-five percent of implants continue to function effectively after ten years.
Implants’ advanced technology explains some of their reliability and longevity—they’re as close to natural teeth as we’re now able to achieve. But their impressive success rate also owes to the detailed protocols that dentists follow to install them. One critical part of these protocols is ensuring a patient has enough bone in their jaw to support and precisely situate the implant for the best functional and aesthetic outcome.
Unfortunately, there are situations where a patient doesn’t have enough bone to achieve a satisfactory result. This often happens if there’s been months or years between losing the tooth and considering an implant. The reason why relates to the nature of bone as living tissue.
Like other cellular tissues in the body, bone has a life cycle: Older, worn-out cells die and are absorbed by the body, and new cells form to replace them. The growth cycle in the jaw receives stimulation from the forces generated when we chew, which travel up through the teeth to the bone.
However, this stimulation stops after tooth loss for the related area of bone, which can slow new bone growth. Over time, the volume and density of the bone around a missing tooth gradually decreases, enough eventually to make an implant impractical.
Insufficient bone volume, though, doesn’t necessarily mean an implant is out of the question. We may be able to address the problem by attempting to regenerate the bone through grafting. This is a procedure in which we insert graft material into the affected area of the jawbone. The graft then becomes a scaffold upon which bone cells can grow. After several months, we may have enough regenerated bone to support an implant.
If there’s been too much bone loss, we may still need to consider another form of restoration. But if we can successfully build up the bone around your missing tooth, this premier restoration for replacing lost teeth could become a reality for you.
If you've noticed one of your teeth feeling loose, you're right to believe it's not a good thing. Loose permanent teeth are a sign of an underlying problem.
Periodontal (gum) disease is usually the culprit. Caused by bacterial plaque, a thin film of food particles, gum disease causes the tissues that support teeth to weaken and detach. While a tooth can become loose from too much biting force (primary occlusal trauma), it's more likely bone loss from gum disease has caused so much damage that even the forces from normal biting can trigger looseness.
A loose tooth must be treated or you may lose it altogether. If it's from gum disease, your treatment will have two phases.
In the first phase we need to stop the gum infection by removing plaque and calculus (hardened plaque deposits). Hand instruments known as scalers or ultrasonic equipment are usually sufficient for removing plaque and calculus around or just below the gum line. If the plaque extends deeper near or around the roots, we may need to consider surgical techniques to access these deeper deposits.
Once the infection is under control and the tissues have healed, we can then undertake the second phase: reducing biting forces by breaking clenching and grinding habits, doing a bite adjustment for advanced problems and securing loose teeth with splinting.
Although there are different types of splinting — both temporary and permanent — they all link loose teeth to adjacent secure teeth much like pickets in a fence. One way is to bond dental material to the outer enamel of all the teeth involved; a more permanent technique is to cut a small channel extending across all the teeth and bond a rigid metal splint within it.
To reduce biting forces on loose teeth, we might recommend wearing a bite guard to keep the teeth from generating excessive biting forces with each other. We may also recommend orthodontics to create a better bite or reshape the teeth's biting surfaces by grinding away small selected portions of tooth material so they generate less force.
Using the right combination of methods we can repair loose teeth and make them more secure. But time is of the essence: the sooner we begin treatment for a loose tooth, the better the outcome.
If you would like more information on treating loose teeth, 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 “Treatment for Loose Teeth.”
All treatments for periodontal (gum) disease focus on one goal — to remove any bacterial plaque and calculus (hardened plaque deposits) that are at the heart of the infection. Plaque is a thin surface film of food particles and bacteria that cause gum disease.
Plaque builds up on tooth surfaces due to inadequate oral hygiene. And as the disease progresses brushing and flossing won’t be enough — you’ll need our services and specialized equipment to fully remove the plaque and calculus. The basic technique is called scaling in which we remove plaque and calculus manually from tooth surfaces above and just a few millimeters below the gum line.
As the disease develops, though, the slight natural gap between teeth and gums may begin to increase to form voids known as periodontal pockets. Filled with infection, these pockets can extend below the gum line onto the roots of the tooth. If the pocket extends more than 4 millimeters, basic scaling may not be able to remove all of the plaque and calculus.
Periodontists (dentists who specialize in the treatment and care of gum tissues) can perform a surgical method to access these deeper areas. Known as flap surgery, this procedure aims not only to reach and disinfect periodontal pockets and root surfaces, but also repair damaged gum tissue and create a better environment for future hygiene and treatment.
As the name implies, we create an opening in the gum tissue with one side remaining attached to the gum structure — much like the flap of a paper envelope. Through this opening we’re able to reach areas to remove plaque and calculus, as well as install both bone grafts to regenerate lost bone and growth factors to stimulate tissue growth. Once finished, we stitch the flap back into place with sutures and, in many cases, place a moldable dressing to protect and hold the flap secure while the incision heals.
This relatively minor procedure can be performed with local anesthesia and requires only a few days of recuperation. The results, though, can provide long-term benefits — reduced infection, better bone and gum health, and a more conducive environment for future maintenance of health — that could save your teeth and your smile for many years to come.
If you would like more information on 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 “Periodontal Flap Surgery.”
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