The red and puffy gums that sometimes accompany the onset of periodontal (gum) disease don't always catch your attention. You may not even get any symptoms at all, in fact, until the disease has become well advanced.
That's why regular dental visits are so important for gum health: For while you may not notice anything abnormal about your gums, we have a simple procedure known as periodontal probing that can help diagnose the condition of your gums.
Gum disease is a common bacterial infection that affects millions of people worldwide. It most often begins with plaque, a filmy, bacterial buildup on teeth. These bacteria feed and multiply on the remnant food particles in the film, increasing the chances for an infection.
As it grows—as well as the inflammation the body initiates to fight it—the infection weakens the gum attachment to teeth. This can cause the miniscule gap between gums and teeth at the gum line to widen, forming a void called a periodontal pocket. The deeper and wider the pocket, the more advanced the gum infection.
We may be able to verify the presence of a periodontal pocket by using a long, thin probing instrument with millimeter gradations. We gently insert the probe at various locations around a tooth as far as it will comfortably go. We then record the depth by reading the gradation measures lined up with the top of the gums, as well as observing how snug or loose the probe feels within the gum space.
One to three millimeters signifies a healthy attachment between the tooth and gums—anything more than that usually indicates gum disease. Measurements of 5mm indicates a problem, the higher the number, the more advanced is the periodontal disease.
We use these probe readings and other factors to guide our treatment approach in individual cases of gum disease. With a less-advanced infection we may only need to remove plaque and calculus adhering to the crown and just below the gum line. More advanced gum disease infecting the root area may require surgical access through the gums.
All in all, keeping up with regular dental visits can increase the chances of early diagnosis, when the disease is still in its initial stages. And daily oral hygiene to remove harmful plaque may help you avoid gum disease altogether.
If you would like more information on 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 “Understanding Periodontal Pockets.”
Buffalo Bills wide receiver Stefon Diggs wrapped up the NFL regular season in January, setting single-season records in both catches and receiving yards. The Bills handily beat the Miami Dolphins, earning themselves the second seed in the AFC playoffs, and Diggs certainly did his part, making 7 catches for 76 yards. But what set the internet ablaze was not Diggs' accomplishments on the field but rather what the camera caught him doing on the sidelines—flossing his teeth!
The Twitterverse erupted with Bills fans poking fun at Diggs. But Diggs is not ashamed of his good oral hygiene habits, and CBS play-by-play announcer Kevin Harlan expressed his support with “Dental hygiene is something to take note of, kids! There's never a bad place to floss” and “When you lead the NFL in catches and yards, you can floss anytime you want.”
We like to think so. There's an old joke among dentists:
Q. Which teeth do you need to floss?
A. Only the ones you want to keep.
Although this sounds humorous, it is borne out in research. Of note, a 2017 study showed that people who floss have a lower risk of tooth loss over periods of 5 years and 10 years, and a 2020 study found that older adults who flossed lost an average of 1 tooth in 5 years, while those who don't lost around 4 teeth in the same time period.
We in the dental profession stress the importance of flossing as a daily habit—and Stefon Diggs would likely agree—yet fewer than 1 in 3 Americans floss every day. The 2016 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), conducted by the CDC's National Center for Health Statistics, revealed that only 30% of Americans floss every day, while 37% floss less than every day and 32% never floss.
The biggest enemy on the football field may be the opposing team, but the biggest enemy to your oral health is plaque, a sticky film of bacteria and food debris that builds up on tooth surfaces. Plaque can cause tooth decay and gum disease, the number one cause of tooth loss among adults. Flossing is necessary to remove plaque from between teeth and around the gums where a toothbrush can't reach. If not removed, plaque hardens into tartar, which can only be removed by the specialized tools used in the dental office. Regular professional dental cleanings are also needed to get at those hard-to-reach spots you may have missed.
If Diggs can find time to floss during a major NFL game, the rest of us can certainly find a couple minutes a day to do it. While we might not recommend Diggs' technique of flossing from one side of the mouth to the other, we commend his enthusiasm and commitment to keeping his teeth and gums healthy. Along with good dental hygiene at home—or on the sidelines if you are Stefon Diggs—regular professional dental cleanings and checkups play a key role in maintaining a healthy smile for life.
After months or even years of radiation or chemotherapy, the words "cancer-free" is music to your ears. Your joy and relief, though, may be tempered by the toll these treatments can take on the rest of your body—including your mouth.
Both of these treatments can destroy healthy tissue along with targeted cancer cells. If the focus has been on the head and neck regions, they could damage the salivary glands to the point that they won't produce adequate saliva flow.
A lack of saliva can have a detrimental effect on your oral health. Saliva buffers and helps lower oral acid levels that soften and erode enamel and increase the likelihood of tooth decay. Saliva also supplies antibodies that fight disease-causing bacteria. Otherwise, bacteria—and the risk for disease—can rapidly grow.
If these or other scenarios occur, you may experience dental damage, even tooth loss. Fortunately, we can restore an injured smile in various ways, including dentures, bridges or dental implants. But we should also attempt to limit the potential damage by taking steps to prevent dental disease during cancer treatment.
The most important of these is to brush and floss daily. Everyone should practice these hygiene tasks to remove disease-causing dental plaque, regardless of their health status. But because some natural disease-fighting mechanisms in the mouth may be disrupted during either radiation or chemotherapy, it's even more important if you're a cancer patient.
It's equally important to maintain as much as possible regular dental visits during cancer treatment. Dental cleanings provided during these visits remove any residual plaque and tartar (hardened plaque), which further lowers your disease risk.
Your dentist can better monitor your overall dental condition during frequent visits and provide as much treatment as you can tolerate. They can also enhance your protection against disease by prescribing antibacterial mouthrinses, fluoride applications or products to boost saliva production.
Some teeth and gum problems may be unavoidable; in that case, you may need post-treatment dental care to restore your oral health as needed. But caring as much for your dental health as you're able during cancer treatment could help you realize a better outcome.
Your child's dental development is in overdrive between birth and early adulthood. The rapid growth of the teeth, gums and jaws occurs mostly on its own—but tooth decay could significantly derail it.
Although most cases of dental disease occur in adults, tooth decay is a major problem for children, particularly involving primary teeth. These teeth are much more important than they seem given their short lifespans: Because they help incoming permanent teeth to align properly, their premature loss due to decay can create future bite problems.
To prevent this from happening, taking steps to prevent tooth decay in young children is well worth the effort. The best strategy is a double-pronged approach. You'll first want to address certain areas that directly contribute to tooth decay. You'll then want to add measures that strengthen the teeth themselves against the disease.
In regard to the former, reducing the levels of harmful bacteria in the mouth tops the list. These bacteria produce acid as a byproduct that in turn softens and erodes enamel, the teeth's natural barrier against decay. We reduce bacteria by eliminating dental plaque, a film of built-up food particles that feeds and shelters bacteria, through daily brushing and flossing.
Certain dietary choices may also contribute to bacterial growth. Refined sugar is a prime food source for bacteria, so limiting it in the diet will help reduce tooth decay. Furthermore, a diet rich in whole, unprocessed foods and dairy provide nutrients strengthen teeth against decay.
The other prong in defeating tooth decay mainly involves protective measures provided by your dentist. Sealants applied to the chewing surfaces of a child's teeth help protect the enamel from the buildup of bacteria in these highly susceptible areas. An occasional direct application of fluoride to teeth further strengthens their enamel, and makes them less susceptible to decay.
This approach can minimize the chances of tooth decay, but it won't eliminate the risk altogether. If it does occur despite your best efforts, prompt treatment can limit the damage and preserve the teeth. Working with your dentist, you can help ensure your child's teeth are protected from this damaging disease.
If you would like more information on best dental care practices for 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 “Dentistry & Oral Health for Children.”
Getting dental implants is going to require surgery. But don't let that concern you—it's a relatively minor procedure.
Currently the “gold standard” for tooth replacement, an implant consists of a titanium post surgically imbedded in the jawbone. We can affix a life-like crown to a single implant or support a fixed bridge or removable denture using a series of them.
Because placement will determine the restoration's final appearance, we must carefully plan implant surgery beforehand. Our first priority is to verify that you have adequate jawbone available to support an implant.
Additionally, we want to identify any underlying structures like nerves or blood vessels that might obstruct placement. We may also develop a surgical guide, a retainer-like device placed in the mouth during surgery that identifies precisely where to create the holes or channels for the implants.
After numbing the area with local anesthesia, we begin the surgery by opening the gum tissue with a series of incisions to expose the underlying bone. If we've prepared a surgical guide, we'll place it in the mouth at this time.
We then create the channel for the insert through a series of drillings. We start with a small opening, then increase its size through subsequent drills until we've created a channel that fits the size of the intended implant.
After removing the implant from its sterile packaging, we'll directly insert it into the channel. Once in place, we may take an x-ray to verify that it's been properly placed, and adjust as needed. Unless we're attaching a temporary crown at the time of surgery (an alternate procedure called immediate loading), we suture the gums over the implant to protect it.
Similar to other dental procedures, discomfort after surgery is usually mild to moderate and manageable with pain relievers like acetaminophen or ibuprofen (if necessary, we can prescribe something stronger). We may also have you take antibiotics or use antibacterial mouthrinses for a while to prevent infection.
A few weeks later, after the bone has grown and adhered to the implant surface, you'll return to receive your new permanent crown or restoration. While the process can take a few months and a number of treatment visits, in the end you'll have new life-like teeth that could serve you well for decades.
If you would like more information on dental implants, 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 Implant Surgery.”
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