If you’re over age 30 there’s a fifty percent chance you have periodontal (gum) disease—and you may not even know it. Without treatment this often “silent” bacterial infection could cause you to lose gum coverage, supporting bone volume or eventually your teeth.
That’s not to say there can’t be noticeable symptoms like swollen, red, bleeding or painful gums. But the surest way to know if you have gum disease, as well as how advanced it is, is to have us examine your gums with manual probing below the gum line.
Using a long metal device called a periodontal probe, we can detect if you’ve developed periodontal pockets. These are gaps created when the diseased gum’s attachment to teeth has weakened and begun to pull away. The increased void may become inflamed (swollen) and filled with infection.
During an exam we insert the probe, which has markings indicating depths in millimeters, into the naturally occurring space between tooth and gums called the sulcus. Normally, the sulcus extends only about 1-3 mm deep, so being able to probe deeper is a sign of a periodontal pocket. How deep we can probe can also tell us about the extent of the infection: if we can probe to 5 mm, you may have early to mild gum disease; 5-7 mm indicates moderate gum disease; and anything deeper is a sign of advanced disease.
Knowing periodontal pocket depth helps guide our treatment strategy. Our main goal is to remove bacterial plaque, a thin film of food particles that collects on teeth and is the main cause and continuing fuel for the infection. In mild to moderate cases this may only require the use of hand instruments called scalers to manually remove plaque from tooth surfaces.
If, however, our periodontal probing indicates deeper, advanced gum disease, we may need to include surgical procedures to access these infected areas through the gum tissue. By knowing the depth and extent of any periodontal pockets, we can determine whether or not to use these more invasive techniques.
Like many other health conditions, discovering gum disease early could help you avoid these more advanced procedures and limit the damage caused by the infection. Besides daily brushing and flossing to remove plaque and regular dental checkups, keep watch for signs of swollen or bleeding gums and contact us for an appointment as soon as possible. And be aware that if you smoke, your gums will not likely bleed or swell—that could make diagnosis more difficult.
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 article “Understanding Periodontal Pockets.”
When it comes to replacing a missing tooth, you have several options, including a removable partial denture or a fixed bridge. But the premier choice is “the new kid on the block” at just over thirty years old: dental implants. Implants are by far the most popular tooth replacement choice among both patients and dentists.
But they also happen to be the most expensive option, at least initially. So the question is, why invest in dental implants over less costly choices?
Here are 3 reasons why implants could be well worth their price.
More Like a real tooth than other restorations. Implants can match the life-like appearance of any other replacement choice, often utilizing the same types of materials. But where they really excel is in function—how they perform while biting and chewing. This is because the dental implant’s titanium post imbedded in the jawbone replaces the tooth root. No other dental restoration can do that—or perform better when comparing the resulting functionality.
Best long-term solution. As we mentioned before, the initial implant cost is typically higher than either dentures or bridges. But you should also consider their durability compared to other choices. It could be potentially much longer—possibly decades. This is because the titanium post creates an ultra-strong hold in the jawbone as bone cells naturally grow and adhere to this particular metal. The resulting hold can withstand the daily forces generated during eating and chewing. With proper care they might even last a lifetime, and actually cost you less in the long run over other choices.
Adaptable to other types of restoration. Implants have greater uses other than as individual tooth replacements. A few strategically placed implants can also be used to support removable dentures or a fixed bridge for multiple teeth or an entire dental arch. As the technology continues to advance, implants are helping to make other restoration options stronger, more stable and longer lasting—and adding more value to your investment.
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 Implants 101.”
Did you see the move Cast Away starring Tom Hanks? If so, you probably remember the scene where Hanks, stranded on a remote island, knocks out his own abscessed tooth — with an ice skate, no less — to stop the pain. Recently, Dear Doctor TV interviewed Gary Archer, the dental technician who created that special effect and many others.
“They wanted to have an abscess above the tooth with all sorts of gunk and pus and stuff coming out of it,” Archer explained. “I met with Tom and I took impressions [of his mouth] and we came up with this wonderful little piece. It just slipped over his own natural teeth.” The actor could flick it out with his lower tooth when the time was right during the scene. It ended up looking so real that, as Archer said, “it was not for the easily squeamish!”
That’s for sure. But neither is a real abscess, which is an infection that becomes sealed off beneath the gum line. An abscess may result from a trapped piece of food, uncontrolled periodontal (gum) disease, or even an infection deep inside a tooth that has spread to adjacent periodontal tissues. In any case, the condition can cause intense pain due to the pressure that builds up in the pus-filled sac. Prompt treatment is required to relieve the pain, keep the infection from spreading to other areas of the face (or even elsewhere in the body), and prevent tooth loss.
Treatment involves draining the abscess, which usually stops the pain immediately, and then controlling the infection and removing its cause. This may require antibiotics and any of several in-office dental procedures, including gum surgery, a root canal, or a tooth extraction. But if you do have a tooth that can’t be saved, we promise we won’t remove it with an ice skate!
The best way to prevent an abscess from forming in the first place is to practice conscientious oral hygiene. By brushing your teeth twice each day for two minutes, and flossing at least once a day, you will go a long way towards keeping harmful oral bacteria from thriving in your mouth.
If you have any questions about gum disease or abscesses, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can learn more by reading the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Periodontal (Gum) Abscesses” and “Confusing Tooth Pain.”
For whatever reason, you’ve put off replacing a missing tooth for awhile. Now you want to fill that empty gap in your smile with a dental implant restoration.
But if your tooth’s been missing for a long time, there could be a problem with space. This is because the teeth on either side of the space may have gradually drifted into it, leaving no room for the implant. You could need orthodontic work first to return these teeth to their proper position.
We could use braces, metal orthodontic devices with wires threaded through brackets bonded to the teeth that are then anchored, usually to back teeth. The orthodontist uses elastics or springs as well as possibly incrementally tightening of the wire against the anchors. These techniques create pressure or tension on the teeth for the desired direction of movement. The teeth’s natural mechanism for movement does the rest.
But while effective, braces can be quite noticeable, an embarrassing thought for many adults having to wear them over several months of treatment. But there may be an alternative: clear aligners, a succession of slightly different plastic trays usually worn in two-week intervals. Sequentially wearing each tray gradually moves the teeth to their desired positions.
Though not appropriate for all bite situations, clear aligners have a number of benefits when they can be used. They’re nearly invisible to others and can be removed for hygiene tasks or rare special occasions. What’s more, the orthodontist may attach a temporary prosthetic (false) tooth to the trays to camouflage the missing space during treatment.
There’s one other issue you may have to deal with: if your tooth loss was related to periodontal (gum) disease, the gums and underlying bone may be in poor condition. In fact, substantial bone loss could rule out an implant altogether. But we may be able to remedy both gum and bone deficiencies through grafting or plastic surgery. It may be possible to regenerate enough bone to support the implant; and surgically repairing your gums will help ensure the implant appears natural.
If you have problems like these, don’t give up on your restoration goal just yet. With some orthodontic and dental work ahead of time, we may still be able to make implants a reality for you.
Have you ever felt a hot, burning sensation in your mouth—like it had been scalded—but you didn't eat or drink anything that could have caused it?
While you may think you’re hallucinating, there’s another possibility: Burning Mouth Syndrome (BMS). This condition, which can last for years, produces sensations in the mouth of not only scalding or burning, but also tingling, numbness and a decline in your ability to taste. Patients may feel it throughout their mouth or only in localized areas like the lips, tongue or inside the cheeks.
The exact cause of BMS is also something of a mystery. It’s been theoretically linked to diabetes, vitamin or mineral deficiencies and psychological problems. Because it’s most common among women of menopausal age hormonal changes have been proposed as a factor, although hormone replacement therapy often doesn’t produce any symptomatic relief for BMS.
To complicate matters, other conditions often share the condition’s effects, which need to be ruled out first to arrive at a BMS diagnosis. A feeling of scalding could be the result of mouth dryness, caused by medications or systemic conditions that inhibit saliva flow. Some denture wearers may display some of the symptoms of BMS due to an allergic reaction to denture materials; others may have a similar reaction to the foaming agent sodium lauryl sulfate found in some toothpaste that can irritate the skin inside the mouth.
If these other possibilities can be ruled out, then you may have BMS. While unfortunately there’s no cure for the condition, there are ways to lessen its impact. There’s even the possibility that it will resolve itself over time.
Until then, keep your mouth moist by drinking lots of water or using saliva-stimulating products, limiting alcohol, caffeinated drinks or spicy foods and refraining from smoking. If you’re taking medications that could cause dry mouth, speak with your physician about changing to an alternative. And try to reduce stress in your life through exercise, mindfulness practices or support groups.
While BMS isn’t considered harmful to your physical health it can make life less enjoyable. Careful symptom management may help improve your quality of life.
If you would like more information on Burning Mouth Syndrome, 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 “Burning Mouth Syndrome: A Painful Puzzle.”
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