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.”
Introduced to the United States in the 1980s, dental implants have quickly become the go-to restoration for tooth replacement. And for good reason: they're not only incredibly life-like, they're highly durable with a 95% success rate.
But as desirable as they are, you may face a major obstacle getting one because of the condition of the bone at your implant site. To position the implant for best appearance and long-term durability, we must have at least 4-5 mm of bone available along the horizontal dimension. Unfortunately, that's not always the case with tooth loss.
This is because bone, like other living tissue, has a growth cycle: Older cells die and dissolve (resorb) and newer cells develop in their place. The forces transmitted to the jaw from the action of chewing help stimulate this resorption and replacement cycle and keep it on track. When a tooth is lost, however, so is this stimulus.
This may result in a slowdown in cell replacement, causing the eventual loss of bone. And it doesn't take long for it to occur after tooth loss—you could lose a quarter of bone width in just the first year, leaving you without enough bone to support an implant. In some cases, it may be necessary to choose another kind of restoration other than implants.
But inadequate bone isn't an automatic disqualifier for implants. It's often possible to regenerate lost bone through a procedure known as bone augmentation, in which we insert a bone graft at the missing tooth site. The graft serves as a scaffold for new bone cells to grow upon, which over time may regenerate enough bone to support an implant.
Even if you've had a missing tooth for some time, implementing bone augmentation could reverse any loss you may have experienced. In fact, it's a common practice among dentists to place a bone graft immediately after a tooth extraction to minimize bone loss, especially if there will be a time lag between extraction and implant surgery.
Bone augmentation could add extra time to the implant process. But if successful, it will make it possible for you to enjoy this popular dental restoration.
If you would like more information on dental implant restoration, 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 After Previous Tooth Loss.”
Osteoporosis is a serious bone weakening disease in older adults that can turn a minor fall into a major bone fracture. But the condition could also impact dental treatment—triggered ironically by the drugs used to treat osteoporosis rather than the disease itself.
From the Latin for “porous bone,” osteoporosis causes bone to gradually lose mineral structure. Over time the naturally-occurring spaces between mineralized portions of the bone enlarge, leaving it weaker as a result.
Although there's no definitive cure for osteoporosis, a number of drugs developed over the last couple of decades can inhibit its progress. Most fall into two major categories, bisphosphonates and RANKL inhibitors.
These drugs work by inhibiting the normal growth cycle of bone. Living bone constantly changes as cells called osteoblasts produce new bone. A different type, osteoclasts, clear away older bone to make room for these newer cells. The drugs selectively destroy osteoclasts so that the older bone, which would have been removed by them, remains for a longer period of time.
Retaining older cells longer initially slows the disease process. But there is a downside: in time, this older bone kept in place continues to weaken and lose vitality. In rare instances it may eventually become detached from its blood supply and die, resulting in what is known as osteonecrosis.
Osteonecrosis mostly affects two particular bones in the body: the femur (the long bone in the upper leg) and the jawbone. In regard to the latter, even the stress of chewing could cause osteonecrosis in someone being treated for osteoporosis. It can also occur after tooth extractions or similar invasive procedures.
If you're taking a bisphosphonate or RANKL inhibitor, you'll want to inform your dentist so that the necessary precautions can be taken before undergoing dental work more invasive than routine cleanings or getting a filling or crown. If you need major dental work, your dentist or you will also need to speak with your physician about stopping the drug for a few months before and after a dental procedure to minimize the risk of osteonecrosis.
Fortunately, the risk for dental problems while undergoing treatment for osteoporosis is fairly low. Still, you'll want to be as prepared as possible so that the management of your osteoporosis doesn't harm your dental health.
If you would like more information on osteoporosis and 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 “Osteoporosis Drugs & Dental Treatment.”
Millions of Americans rely on dental insurance to help them better afford dental care. Depending on the benefit package, an insurance policy can be useful in restoring dental health compromised by disease or injury.
But how life-like that restoration may appear is often a secondary concern with many insurance plans. For example, dental insurance will pay for a crown restoration that restores function to a tooth, but not necessarily of the highest aesthetic quality for achieving a truly life-like appearance.
To be sure, not all dental crowns are the same. Some are all metal, usually gold or silver. Some are “hybrids,” made of an interior metal shell with an outer fused porcelain shell (porcelain-fused-to-metal or PFM). In recent years all -ceramic crowns made of stronger life-like ceramics have become the most popular.
The type of crown used will depend a great deal on the type and location of the tooth. Teeth on the back of the jaw that encounter greater biting forces and are not as noticeable in the smile may do better with a metal or PFM crown. Visible side and front teeth are more likely candidates for all-ceramic. Your dentist will give you your best options as it pertains to your dental needs and appearance.
There's also a difference in crown workmanship. Dental laboratories now use milling machinery that sculpts a crown from a single block of material. Although some final handwork by skilled technicians is still necessary, milling has streamlined the process—and the cost—for producing a crown of high functioning quality.
But crowns that achieve the most natural smile appearance require more in the way of artistic craftsmanship. This in turn can increase the crown's price—beyond what many dental policies agree to cover. You may then be faced with a decision: an insurance-covered functional crown with an acceptable level of life-likeness or a more life-like crown for which you may have to pay more out-of-pocket.
Your dentist can advise you on your best options for a crown restoration, also factoring in what your insurance will cover. Ultimately, though, you'll have to weigh the kind of smile you desire with your dental situation and finances.
If you would like more information on dental crown restorations, 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 “Porcelain Dental Crowns.”
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