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.”
Fans everywhere were recently saddened by the news of musical legend Eddie Van Halen's death. Co-founder and lead guitarist for the iconic rock group Van Halen, the 65-year-old superstar passed away from oral cancer.
Van Halen's rise to worldwide fame began in the 1970s with his unique guitar style and energetic performances, but behind the scenes, he struggled with his health. In 2000, he was successfully treated for tongue cancer. He remained cancer-free until 2018 when he was diagnosed with throat cancer to which he succumbed this past October.
Van Halen claimed the metal guitar picks he habitually held in his mouth caused his tongue cancer. It's more likely, though, that his heavy cigarette smoking and alcohol use had more to do with his cancers.
According to the American Cancer Society, most oral cancer patients are smokers and, as in Van Halen's case, are more likely to beat one form of oral cancer only to have another form arise in another part of the mouth. Add in heavy alcohol consumption, and the combined habits can increase the risk of oral cancer a hundredfold.
But there are ways to reduce that risk by making some important lifestyle changes. Here's how:
Quit tobacco. Giving up tobacco, whether smoked or smokeless, vastly lowers your oral cancer risk. It's not easy to kick the habit solo, but a medically supervised cessation program or support group can help.
Limit alcohol. If you drink heavily, consider giving up alcohol or limiting yourself to just one or two drinks a day. As with tobacco, it can be difficult doing it alone, so speak with a health professional for assistance.
Eat healthy. You can reduce your cancer risk by avoiding processed foods with nitrites or other known carcinogens. Instead, eat fresh fruits and vegetables with antioxidants that fight cancer. A healthy diet also boosts your overall dental and bodily health.
Practice hygiene. Keeping teeth and gums healthy also lowers oral cancer risk. Brush and floss daily to remove dental plaque, the bacterial film on teeth most responsible for dental disease. You should also visit us every six months for more thorough dental cleanings and checkups.
One last thing: Because oral cancer is often diagnosed in its advanced stages, be sure you see us if you notice any persistent sores or other abnormalities on your tongue or the inside of your mouth. An earlier diagnosis of oral cancer can vastly improve the long-term prognosis.
Although not as prevalent as other forms of cancer, oral cancer is among the deadliest with only a 60% five-year survival rate. Making these changes toward a healthier lifestyle can help you avoid this serious disease.
If you would like more information about preventing oral cancer, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “How a Routine Dental Visit Saved My Life” and “Strategies to Stop Smoking.”
In recent years, dental implants have helped traditional bridgework take a giant leap forward. A few strategically placed implants can provide the highest support and stability we can currently achieve for this well-known dental restoration.
Implants derive this stability from the bone in which they're imbedded. Once surgically installed, the bone around a metal implant begins to grow and adhere to its titanium surface. Over time, this creates a strong anchor that firmly holds the implant in place.
But the implants' stability can be threatened if the gums around them become diseased. Gum disease, a bacterial infection caused mainly by dental plaque, can advance silently below the gum surface until it ultimately infects the bone. This can cause significant bone loss around an implant, which can weaken it to the point of failure.
To avoid this scenario, it's important to prevent gum disease by flossing daily to remove accumulated dental plaque between the implant-supported bridge and the gums, particularly around the implants. This kind of flossing around bridgework is more difficult than flossing between teeth, but it can be done with the help of a device called a floss threader.
A floss threader is a small plastic hand tool with a loop on one end and a stiffened edge on the other (similar to a sewing needle). You begin by threading about 18" of dental floss through the loop, and then work the other end of the threader between the bridge and gums to the other side.
With the floss threaded between the bridge and gums, you can now remove it from the threader, grasp each end, and floss around the sides of each implant you can reach. You'll then need to repeat the process by removing the floss, rethreading it in the threader and inserting it into the next section between implants, continuing to floss until you've accessed each side of each implant.
You can also use pre-packaged floss thread sections with a stiffened end to facilitate threading. But whichever product you use, it's important to perform this task each day to prevent a gum infection that could rob you of your implant-supported bridge.
If you would like more information on oral hygiene practices with dental work, 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 “Oral Hygiene for Fixed Bridgework.”
When dental implants hit the scene in the 1980s, they revolutionized the field of dental restorations. But as groundbreaking as they were then, they're even more advanced now.
Some of the advancements have to do with improvements in implant design and manufacturing. Implant sizes and shapes were once quite limited, but today they come in a variety of forms to better match the types of teeth they replace.
But there has also been important progress in complementary technologies that help us realize better outcomes. Many of these other advances have had a positive impact on the planning and surgical stages of implant installation.
CT/CBCT scanning. For the best outcome, it's critical to install an implant at the most appropriate location on the jaw. This can be difficult to determine, however, because of the location of oral and facial structures like nerves or sinuses that might interfere with implant placement. But using a type of computer tomography (CT) scanning called cone beam CT, we can produce a 3-D computer graphic image that helps us navigate possible obstructions as we pinpoint the ideal location for an implant.
Digital smile displays. We're now able to produce digital models of the mouth, which can assist with more than implant placement—we can also use them to visualize what a new smile with implants will look like before we install them. This is especially helpful in situations where only a few teeth need to be replaced: We want to ensure that the new implant crowns blend seamlessly with the remaining teeth for the most natural appearance.
Custom-made surgical guides. We've been using surgical guides to mark the exact drilling locations during implant surgery for many years. But 3-D printing technology can now help us produce surgical guides that are even more useful and precise. Using a 3-D printer, we can produce oral devices based on the patient's individual dental dimensions captured through digital scanning. That produces a better fit for the guide on the teeth and more accurate implant placement.
Together, these and other technological advances are helping us achieve even more successful results. Not only can they help us produce implant outcomes that can last for years or even decades, but also the most beautiful smiles possible.
If you would like more information on dental implant 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 “How Technology Aids Dental Implant Therapy.”
We all benefit from regular dental care, regardless of our state of oral health. But if you've experienced periodontal (gum) disease, those regular dental visits are even more important in making sure your healed gums stay that way.
Gum disease is a bacterial infection caused by dental plaque, a thin film of bacteria and food particles accumulating on tooth surfaces. The infection triggers inflammation in the gums that quickly becomes chronic. That's why people with gum disease have reddened and swollen gums that bleed easily.
The infection can aggressively spread deeper below the gum line, eventually affecting the bone. The combination of weakened gum detachment from the teeth and bone loss may ultimately cause tooth loss. But we can stop the infection by thoroughly removing all plaque and tartar (hardened plaque) from the teeth and gums. As the plaque is removed, the gums respond and begin to heal.
It's possible then even with advanced gum disease to restore health to your teeth and gums. But although the infection has been arrested, it can occur again. In fact, once you've had gum disease, your susceptibility for another infection is much greater. To stay on top of this, you may need to visit the dentist more frequently.
These upgraded visits known as periodontal maintenance (PM) are actually a continuation of your treatment. Depending on the extensiveness of your gum disease, we may need to see you more than the standard twice-a-year visits: Some periodontal patients, for example, may need a visit every two to three months. Again, the state of your gum health will determine how often.
In addition to standard dental cleanings and checkups, PM visits will also include more thorough examination of the teeth and gums, particularly the health of the tooth roots. We'll also check how well you're doing with daily plaque removal and if there are any signs of gum infection. We may also prescribe medication, rinses or topical antibiotics to help control your mouth's levels of bacteria.
A patient's periodontal “maintenance schedule” will depend on their individual condition and needs. The key, though, is to closely monitor gum health for any indications that another infection has set in. By staying alert through dedicated PM, we can stop a new infection before it harms your dental health.
If you would like more information on 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 Cleanings.”
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