Periodontal (gum) disease can do unpleasant things to your mouth, including losing teeth. Its effects, though, may not be isolated to the oral cavity: Gum disease could make other diseases in the body worse.
Gum disease is a bacterial infection most often caused by dental plaque, a thin bacterial film that builds up on teeth in the absence of effective oral hygiene. At the outset it may infect your gums causing them to swell, redden or bleed. Eventually, though, the infection can advance deeper toward the tooth roots and bone.
There are various methods to treat gum disease depending on the extensiveness of the infection. But these methods all share the same objective—to remove all uncovered plaque and tartar (hardened plaque). Plaque fuels the infection, so removing it starves out the disease and helps the body to heal.
The damage gum disease can do to the teeth and the surrounding gums is reason enough to seek treatment. But treating it can also benefit your overall health. That's because the weakened gum tissues often serve as an open portal for bacteria and other toxins to enter the bloodstream. From there they can travel to other parts of the body and cause disease.
Gum disease also shares another feature with some systemic conditions: inflammation. This is the body's response to disease or trauma that isolates damaged tissues from healthy ones. But with gum disease, this inflammation can become chronic and ironically do more harm than good.
A gum infection may also increase the body's overall inflammatory response, in turn aggravating other diseases like diabetes, heart disease or arthritis. Treating gum disease lowers inflammation, which in turn could ease inflammation in other conditions. Likewise, reducing your body's overall inflammatory response by properly managing these other conditions might make you less susceptible to gum disease.
It's important then to prevent and treat gum disease as if your overall health depended on it—because it does. You can prevent it by brushing and flossing daily and undergoing regular dental cleanings to remove plaque. And see your dentist promptly at the first signs of gum problems. Likewise, follow a physician-supervised program to manage any inflammatory conditions.
If you would like more information on preventing or 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 “Good Oral Health Leads to Better Health Overall.”
It's not an exaggeration to say the modern root canal treatment has saved millions of teeth over the last century. Without this procedure, there's not a lot we can do to stop advanced tooth decay from infecting and destroying a tooth.
What's more, a root canal treatment could extend the life of a tooth for decades. Notice we said could—although most root canals do have satisfactory outcomes, there's still a chance a tooth may become re-infected. Here are 3 possible causes for an unsuccessful root canal treatment, and what you can do to lessen their impact.
The severity of the infection. Tooth decay usually begins at the enamel layer, softened by the acid produced by bacteria. Untreated, the infection can then spread through the next tooth layer of dentin until finally infecting the innermost pulp. From there the infection can move through the root canals to the bone, dramatically increasing the danger to the tooth. Root canal treatments have a higher chance of success the earlier they're performed in the disease progression, so see your dentist at the first sign of pain or other tooth abnormality.
The root canal network. An effective root canal procedure eliminates all dead or diseased tissue in both the pulp chamber and the root canals (these are then filled to prevent future infection). But this may prove difficult with teeth that have intricate root canal networks because of a higher risk of overlooking some of the canals. It may be best in such cases for an endodontist, a specialist in treating interior tooth issues, to perform the procedure using their advanced techniques and microscopic equipment.
The age of the tooth. Root canal treatment can weaken a tooth's structural integrity, especially with older teeth. This can make them more susceptible to fracture and a higher chance of infection. We can avoid this outcome by placing crowns on root-canaled teeth: The crown provides structural strength to the tooth and can add further protection against infection. Older teeth may also benefit from the placement of a small support post within it to further add stability before applying the crown.
If you would like more information on root canal treatment, 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 “Root Canal Treatment: How Long Will It last?”
Complete tooth loss is a common condition among older adults, gradually occurring one or two teeth at a time. There often comes a point of realization, though, that all the teeth will eventually be lost.
This can create a dilemma: Do you replace teeth as they're lost, or go ahead and have all of them removed at one time?
Up until recently, the latter choice seemed the most practical and affordable. But most dentists would agree that keeping natural teeth for as long as practical is better for a person's overall oral health and to slow any potential bone loss.
The emergence of dental implants has made this less of a dilemma: We can use this technology to more affordably replace teeth in stages rather than all at once. This is because an implant is technically a root replacement: a dentist inserts a titanium metal post into the jawbone. Because of an affinity with titanium, bone cells grow and adhere to the implant surface, which creates a stronger hold. It also impedes bone loss.
We can, of course, use implants as individual tooth replacements. But the expense of this approach with multiple teeth puts it well out of reach financially for many people. But implants can also be used as connective points between the patient's jaw and other kinds of dental restorations like bridges, partial dentures, and full removable or fixed dentures.
Using this approach, we can adopt a strategy of allowing healthier teeth to remain until it's necessary to remove them. We initially place implants to support a bridge, for example; later we can use the same implants along with additional ones to support a larger restoration, even a fixed full denture.
An implant-supported restoration is typically more expensive than traditional bridges or dentures, but far less than replacing teeth with individual implants. And because the stages of restorations may occur over a long period of time, the cost can be spread out to make it more manageable.
If you're facing a future where it's likely you'll lose all your teeth, you don't have to lose them all at once. Staged restorations with implants could help you hold on to your natural teeth for as long as possible, slow bone loss and make for a healthier mouth.
If you would like more information on the wide array of dental restoration options, 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 “Replacing All Teeth But Not All at Once.”
Sometimes, looking at old pictures can really bring memories back to life. Just ask Stefani Germanotta—the pop diva better known as Lady Gaga. In one scene from the recent documentary Five Foot Two, as family members sort through headshots from her teen years, her father proclaims: "Here, this proves she had braces!"
"If I had kept that gap, then I would have even more problems with Madonna," Lady Gaga replies, referencing an ongoing feud between the two musical celebrities.
The photos of Gaga's teenage smile reveal that the singer of hits like "Born This Way" once had a noticeable gap (which dentists call a diastema) between her front teeth. This condition is common in children, but often becomes less conspicuous with age. It isn't necessarily a problem: Lots of well-known people have extra space in their smiles, including ex-football player and TV host Michael Strahan, actress Anna Paquin…and fellow pop superstar Madonna. It hasn't hurt any of their careers.
Yet others would prefer a smile without the gap. Fortunately, diastema in children is generally not difficult to fix. One of the easiest ways to do so is with traditional braces or clear aligners. These orthodontic appliances, usually worn for a period of months, can actually move the teeth into positions that look more pleasing in the smile and function better in the bite. For many people, orthodontic treatment is a part of their emergence from adolescence into adulthood.
Braces and aligners, along with other specialized orthodontic appliances, can also remedy many bite problems besides diastema. They can correct misaligned teeth and spacing irregularities, fix overbites and underbites, and take care of numerous other types of malocclusions (bite problems).
The American Association of Orthodontists recommends that kids get screened for orthodontic problems at age 7. Even if an issue is found, most won't get treatment at this age—but in some instances, it's possible that early intervention can save a great deal of time, money and effort later. For example, while the jaw is still developing, its growth can be guided with special appliances that can make future orthodontic treatment go quicker and easier.
Yet orthodontics isn't just for children—adults can wear braces too! As long as teeth and gums are healthy, there's no upper age limit on orthodontic treatment. Instead of traditional silver braces, many adults choose tooth-colored braces or clear aligners to complement their more professional appearance.
So if your child is at the age where screening is recommended—or if you're unhappy with your own smile—ask us whether orthodontics could help. But if you get into a rivalry with Madonna…you're on your own.
If you have questions about orthodontic treatment, please contact our office or schedule a consultation. You can read more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “The Magic of Orthodontics” and “Orthodontics For The Older Adult.”
July is Park and Recreation Month, when we Americans celebrate our ongoing love affair with the great outdoors. Since Yellowstone became our first national park in 1872, we've been passionate about preserving our country's natural resources for the enjoyment of this and future generations. As dental providers, it also reminds us of something else worth preserving: our natural teeth.
Not that we don't have amazing restoration options for lost teeth. With the advent of dental implants, you can get a replacement that looks and functions like the real thing. But even though implants are an exceptional choice, they are still not superior in terms of the overall health protections of real teeth. So unless keeping a sick tooth would cause more harm than good, going the extra mile to save it is often the best choice for long-term dental health.
First, though: Preserving natural teeth doesn't start when they're in peril, but with daily and regular care. The “daily” part is your job—brushing and flossing to remove dental plaque, the single biggest factor in the occurrence of dental disease. Doing this every day is critical in preserving your teeth in the long run.
The “regular” part is our job—professional teeth cleaning every six months. Using special tools, we clear away any plaque you might have missed, plus any tartar (hardened plaque), which can't be removed with brushing and flossing. Routine dental visits also give us a chance to check your teeth and gums for any signs of developing decay or infection.
That's important because although prevention can minimize your risk of tooth decay or gum disease, it can't eliminate the risk altogether. If disease does occur, we'll need to treat it as soon as possible to avoid the worst case scenario of a lost tooth. Often, root canal therapy can save a tooth that is diseased on the inside. Using dental treatments, even extensive ones, as needed to preserve teeth remains the best way to optimize dental health.
Teeth treated for disease may still be viable, but they may look the worse for wear. Fortunately, we can often give unattractive teeth a cosmetic makeover. Tooth-colored fillings and porcelain veneers or crowns, for example, can completely change a tooth's appearance for the better. With the right enhancement procedure, you can keep both your natural teeth and your smile.
It takes an ongoing effort to maintain your natural teeth. But just like preserving the natural surroundings of our national parks, it's well worth the effort.
If you would like more information about daily and regular dental care, please contact us or schedule a consultation.
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