How do you know if you have periodontal (gum) disease? Sometimes your gums will tell you—when they’re red, swollen or bleed easily.
But your gums can also look and feel healthy while a gum infection still brews below the gum line. In this case, a regular dental visit could make the difference. Even without overt signs of infection, we may be able to detect gum disease with a slender metal instrument called a periodontal probe.
Gum disease is a bacterial infection that most of the time arises from dental plaque. This thin film of bacteria and food particles accumulates on tooth surfaces, especially because of poor or non-existent oral hygiene. A continuing infection can weaken gum tissues and cause them to pull away or detach from the teeth.
Normally, there’s a slight gap between the gums and teeth. But as the infected gums pull away, the gaps grow larger and deeper, forming what are known as periodontal pockets. They become filled with infection that soon spreads to the root and bone and increases the risk of tooth loss.
These pockets, though, could be the means for detecting a gum infection with the help of the periodontal probe. During a dental exam we gently insert the probe, which has millimeter depth markings etched on it, between a tooth and its adjacent gums. While a depth of 1 to 3 mm is normal, a probe measurement of 4 to 5 mm could be a sign of an early stage infection. A reading of 7 to 10 mm, on the other hand, may indicate more advanced disease.
Along with other factors, periodontal probing can be quite useful identifying both the presence and extent of a gum infection and then how to treat it. The goal of any treatment is to remove plaque and tartar (calculus) deposits that sustain the infection. But probing, along with other diagnostic methods like x-rays, could point to deeper infection below the gum line that require more extensive methods, including surgery, sometimes to access and remove the disease.
Achieving the best treatment outcome with gum disease often depends on finding the infection early. Periodontal probing helps to make that discovery more likely.
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.”
Besides their life-likeness, implants are also prized for their high success rate. More than ninety-five percent of implants continue to function effectively after ten years.
Implants’ advanced technology explains some of their reliability and longevity—they’re as close to natural teeth as we’re now able to achieve. But their impressive success rate also owes to the detailed protocols that dentists follow to install them. One critical part of these protocols is ensuring a patient has enough bone in their jaw to support and precisely situate the implant for the best functional and aesthetic outcome.
Unfortunately, there are situations where a patient doesn’t have enough bone to achieve a satisfactory result. This often happens if there’s been months or years between losing the tooth and considering an implant. The reason why relates to the nature of bone as living tissue.
Like other cellular tissues in the body, bone has a life cycle: Older, worn-out cells die and are absorbed by the body, and new cells form to replace them. The growth cycle in the jaw receives stimulation from the forces generated when we chew, which travel up through the teeth to the bone.
However, this stimulation stops after tooth loss for the related area of bone, which can slow new bone growth. Over time, the volume and density of the bone around a missing tooth gradually decreases, enough eventually to make an implant impractical.
Insufficient bone volume, though, doesn’t necessarily mean an implant is out of the question. We may be able to address the problem by attempting to regenerate the bone through grafting. This is a procedure in which we insert graft material into the affected area of the jawbone. The graft then becomes a scaffold upon which bone cells can grow. After several months, we may have enough regenerated bone to support an implant.
If there’s been too much bone loss, we may still need to consider another form of restoration. But if we can successfully build up the bone around your missing tooth, this premier restoration for replacing lost teeth could become a reality for you.
Today’s technologically advanced dentures aren’t your grandparents’ “false teeth.” Now made with superior materials and processes, you could almost forget you’re wearing them. But don’t let that cause you to leave them in for the night: While it may seem like a harmless thing to do, wearing dentures 24/7 may not be good for them or your health.
For one thing, around the clock denture wearing could worsen bone loss, already a concern with dentures and missing teeth. The forces generated when we chew on natural teeth stimulate new bone growth to replace older bone cells. When teeth go missing, though, so does this stimulus. Even the best dentures can’t restore this stimulation, so bone loss remains a risk.
And, dentures can accelerate bone loss because of the added pressure they bring to the bony gum ridges that support them. Wearing them all the time deprives the gums of any rest, further speeding up the pace of bone loss. Losing bone volume not only affects your overall oral health, it will gradually loosen your dentures’ fit and make them uncomfortable to wear.
Another problem: You may clean your dentures less frequently if you don’t take them out at night. Lack of cleaning can encourage bacterial growth and lead to disease. Studies show that people who don’t take their dentures out at night have more dental plaque accumulation, gum inflammation and higher blood counts of the protein interleukin 6, indicating the body is fighting infection.
And that’s not just a problem for your mouth. Continuous denture wearing could make you twice as likely to develop life-threatening pneumonia as someone who routinely takes their dentures out.
These and other concerns make nightly denture removal a good practice for your health’s sake. While they’re out, it’s also a good time to clean them: Manually brush them for best results (be sure you’re only using regular soap or denture cleanser—toothpaste is too abrasive for them). You can then store them in clean water or a solution designed for dentures.
Having said all that, though, there may be one reason why wearing dentures at night might be beneficial—it may help prevent obstructive sleep apnea. If you have this condition, talk to your dentist about whether wearing your dentures at night has more advantages than disadvantages. And, if bone loss created by wearing dentures is a concern, it could be resolved by having implants support your dentures. Again, discuss this with your dentist.
Taking care of your dentures will help increase their life and fit, and protect your health. And part of that may be taking them out to give your gums a rest while you’re resting.
If you would like more information on denture 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 “Sleeping in Dentures.”
Osteoporosis is a major health condition affecting millions of people, mostly women over 50. The disease weakens bone strength to the point that a minor fall or even coughing can result in broken bones. And, in an effort to treat it, some patients might find themselves at higher risk of complications during invasive dental procedures.
Over the years a number of drugs have been used to slow the disease’s progression and help the bone resist fracturing. Two of the most common kinds are bisphosphonates (Fosamax) and RANKL inhibitors (Prolia). They work by eliminating certain bone cells called osteoclasts, which normally break down and eliminate older bone cells to make way for newer cells created by osteoblasts.
By reducing the osteoclast cells, older bone cells live longer, which can reduce the weakening of the bone short-term. But these older cells, which normally wouldn’t survive as long, tend to become brittle and fragile after a few years of taking these drugs.
This may even cause the bone itself to begin dying, a relatively rare condition called osteonecrosis. Besides the femur in the leg, the bone most susceptible to osteonecrosis is the jawbone. This could create complications during oral procedures like jaw surgery or tooth extractions.
For this reason, doctors recommend reevaluating the need for these types of medications after 3-5 years. Dentists further recommend, in conjunction with the physician treating osteoporosis, that a patient take a “drug holiday” from either of these two medications for several months before and after any planned oral surgery or invasive dental procedure.
If you have osteoporosis, you may also want to consider alternatives to bisphosphonates and RANKL inhibitors. New drugs like raloxifene (which may also decrease the risk of breast cancer) and teriparatide work differently than the two more common drugs and may avoid their side effects. Taking supplements of Vitamin D and calcium may also improve bone health. If your physician still recommends bisphosphonates, you might discuss newer versions of the drugs that pose less risk of osteonecrosis.
Managing osteoporosis is often a balancing act between alleviating symptoms of the disease and protecting other aspects of your health. Finding that balance may help you avoid future problems, especially to your dental health.
If you would like more information on osteoporosis and 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 “Osteoporosis Drugs & Dental Treatment.”
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