If you think periodontal (gum) disease is something that only happens to the other guy (or gal), you might want to reconsider. Roughly half of adults over age 30—and nearly three-quarters over 65—have had some form of gum disease.
Gum disease isn't some minor inconvenience: If not treated early, a gum infection could lead to bone and tooth loss. Because it's inflammatory in nature, it may also impact the rest of your health, making you more susceptible to diabetes, heart disease or stroke.
Gum disease mainly begins with dental plaque, a thin film of food particles on tooth surfaces. Plaque's most notable feature, though, is as a haven for oral bacteria that can infect the gums. These bacteria use plaque as a food source, which in turn fuels their multiplication. So, the greater the plaque buildup, the higher your risk for a gum infection.
The best way to lower that risk is to reduce the population of bacteria that cause gum disease. You can do this by keeping plaque from building up by brushing and flossing every day. It's important for this to be a daily habit—missing a few days of brushing and flossing is enough for an infection to occur.
You can further reduce your disease risk by having us clean your teeth regularly. Even if you're highly proficient with daily hygiene, it's still possible to miss some plaque deposits, which can calcify over time and turn into a hardened form called tartar (or calculus). Tartar is nearly impossible to remove with brushing and flossing, but can be with special dental tools and techniques.
Even with the most diligent care, there's still a minimal risk for gum disease, especially as you get older. So, always be on the lookout for red, swollen or bleeding gums. If you see anything abnormal like this, see us as soon as possible. The sooner we diagnose and begin treating a gum infection, the better your chances it won't ultimately harm your dental health.
If you would like more information on the prevention and treatment of 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 “How Gum Disease Gets Started.”
February is Gum Disease Awareness Month, and we heartily agree that gums deserve their own month of special recognition. After all, they play an essential role keeping teeth securely in place, and their network of tiny blood vessels supplies important nutrients and disease-fighting agents that teeth depend on. Yet gum disease affects nearly 50% of people over age 30 and 70% of those aged 65 and older, making it the most common chronic inflammatory disease among adults.
Gum disease starts with the thin buildup of bacteria and food particles called plaque. When plaque spreads below the gum line, the gums can become inflamed, resulting in a mild stage of gum disease called gingivitis, which often goes undetected. If not treated, it can progress to a more serious form called periodontitis, which can break down the gums and underlying bone, causing teeth to become loose or even fall out. In fact, periodontitis is the number one cause of tooth loss in adults—and its effects can range beyond the mouth. Periodontitis is linked to many other health conditions, including diabetes, heart disease, respiratory ailments and Alzheimer's disease, among others.
The good news is that gum disease is usually preventable through good oral hygiene and, when caught in its early stages, reversible. To take the best care of your gums, follow these tips:
- Look out for signs of gum disease. Some signs include red, puffy or tender gums, gums that bleed when you brush and floss, gums that recede or separate from the teeth, teeth that are loose or shifting, and persistent bad breath or a persistent bad taste in your mouth.
- Make good dental hygiene a daily habit. To keep dental plaque at bay, brush your teeth morning and night with fluoride toothpaste, and floss once a day.
- Keep up with regular dental visits. It is especially important to come in at least twice a year for checkups and professional cleanings if you have gum disease or another systemic health condition like diabetes.
- Quit tobacco. Smoking, vaping and chewing tobacco are major risk factors for gum disease and certain cancers. When it comes to quitting, you may think “easier said than done.” While we realize it's hard to quit, we also know it's doable and the rewards are priceless.
- Eat a healthy diet. Scientific studies have found that a diet low in refined carbohydrates and rich in whole grains, Omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins C and D, antioxidants and fiber can help control gum disease by reducing inflammation in the body.
Being aware of early gum disease symptoms and taking steps to maintain good oral health can lead to better gum health as well as better overall health.
If you would like more information about gum disease prevention and treatment, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine article “How Gum Disease Gets Started.”
Kathy Bates has been a familiar face to filmgoers since her Oscar-winning performance as Annie Wilkes in Misery. She's best known for playing true-to-life characters like Wilkes or Barbara Jewell in last year's Richard Jewell (for which she earned her fourth Oscar nomination). To keep it real, she typically eschews cosmetic enhancements—with one possible exception: her smile.
Although happy with her teeth in general, Bates noticed they seemed to be “moving around” as she got older. This kind of misalignment is a common consequence of the aging process, a result of the stresses placed on teeth from a lifetime of chewing and biting.
Fortunately, there was an orthodontic solution for Bates, and one compatible with her film career. Instead of traditional braces, Bates chose clear aligners, a newer method for moving teeth first introduced in the late 1990s.
Clear aligners are clear, plastic trays patients wear over their teeth. A custom sequence of these trays is developed for each patient based on their individual bite dimensions and treatment goals. Each tray in the sequence, worn in succession for about two weeks, places pressure on the teeth to move in the prescribed direction.
While clear aligners work according to the same teeth-moving principle as braces, there are differences that make them more appealing to many people. Unlike traditional braces, which are highly noticeable, clear aligners are nearly invisible to others apart from close scrutiny. Patients can also take them out, which is helpful with eating, brushing and flossing (a challenge for wearers of braces) and rare social occasions.
That latter advantage, though, could pose a problem for immature patients. Clear aligner patients must have a suitable level of self-responsibility to avoid the temptation of taking the trays out too often. Families of those who haven't reached this level of maturity may find braces a better option.
Clear aligners also don't address quite the range of bite problems that braces can correct. Some complex bite issues are thus better served by the traditional approach. But that gap is narrowing: Recent advances in clear aligner technology have considerably increased their treatability range.
With that said, clear aligners can be an ideal choice for adults who have a treatable bite problem and who want to avoid the appearance created by braces. And though they tend to be a little more expensive than braces, many busy adults find the benefits of clear aligners to be worth it.
The best way to find out if clear aligners could be a viable option for you is to visit us for an exam and consultation. Like film star Kathy Bates, you may find that this way of straightening your smile is right for you.
If you would like more information about tooth straightening, please contact us or schedule a consultation.
You can't correct a poor bite with braces or clear aligners overnight: Even the most cut-and-dried case can still require a few years to move teeth where they should be. It's a welcome relief, then, when you're finally done with braces or aligner trays.
That doesn't mean, however, that you're finished with orthodontic treatment. You now move into the next phase—protecting your new smile that took so much to gain. At least for a couple of more years you'll need to regularly wear an orthodontic retainer.
The name of this custom-made device explains its purpose: to keep or “retain” your teeth in their new, modified positions. This is necessary because the same mechanism that allows us to move teeth in the first place can work in reverse.
That mechanism centers around a tough but elastic tissue called the periodontal ligament. Although it primarily holds teeth in place, the ligament also allows for tiny, gradual tooth movement in response to mouth changes. Braces or aligner trays take advantage of this ability by exerting pressure on the teeth in the direction of intended movement. The periodontal ligament and nature do the rest.
But once we relieve the pressure when we remove the braces or aligners, a kind of “muscle memory” in the ligament can come into play, causing the teeth to move back to where they originally were. If we don't inhibit this reaction, all the time and effort put into orthodontic treatment can be lost.
Retainers, either the removable type or one fixed in place behind the teeth, gently “push” or “pull” against the teeth (depending on which type) just enough to halt any reversing movement. Initially, a patient will need to wear their retainer around the clock. After a while, wear time can be reduced to just a few hours a day, usually during sleep-time.
Most younger patients will only need to wear a retainer for a few years. Adults who undergo teeth-straightening later in life, however, may need to wear a retainer indefinitely. Even so, a few hours of wear every day is a small price to pay to protect your beautiful straightened smile.
If you would like more information on orthodontic retainers, 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 “The Importance of Orthodontic Retainers.”
Tooth decay can be a big problem for children's primary (baby) teeth. It doesn't take long for a tooth to become infected and the infection spread to their neighbors.
But since it will eventually give way to a permanent tooth, why not just pull a diseased primary tooth? Although that sounds sensible, there are important reasons for helping a troubled primary tooth survive to its natural end.
Current usefulness. They may not be around for long, but primary teeth serve children well while they have them. They enable a child to eat solid foods to further their physical development. They also figure prominently in speech development, which could be stunted by lost teeth.
The smile factor. Young children are also honing their social skills, and smiling is an important part of learning to fit in with family and friends. A tooth that's missing for some time, especially in the “smile zone,” could affect their smile and have an adverse effect on their social development.
Future teeth health. A primary tooth reserves the space intended for the future permanent tooth, helping to ensure the incoming tooth erupts in the right position. If it's not there, however, other teeth can drift into the space, crowding the incoming tooth out of its proper alignment.
That last reason could have the most long-term effect, causing the development of a poor bite that could require extensive orthodontic treatment. To avoid this and any other physical or social consequences accompanying its premature loss, it's worth the effort to try to protect and save a primary tooth.
Preventively, we can apply sealants on biting surfaces more prone to plaque buildup (the main cause of decay) and topical fluoride to strengthen enamel. When decay does occur, we may be able to remove it and fill the tooth, cap a tooth with a steel crown, or even use a modified root canal procedure in the case of advanced tooth decay.
The best way, however, to protect your child's primary teeth is to brush and floss them every day. Removing harmful plaque vastly reduces the risk of tooth decay. Coupled with professional dental care, your child can avoid tooth decay and get the most out of their primary teeth.
If you would like more information on children's dental care, 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 “Importance of Baby Teeth.”
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