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.
The long-running hit show Dancing with the Stars has had its share of memorable moments, including a wedding proposal, a wardrobe malfunction, and lots of sharp dance moves. But just recently, one DWTS contestant had the bad luck of taking an elbow to the mouth on two separate occasions—one of which resulted in some serious dental damage.
Nationally syndicated radio personality Bobby Bones received the accidental blows while practicing with his partner, professional dancer Sharna Burgess. “I got hit really hard,” he said. “There was blood and a tooth. [My partner] was doing what she was supposed to do, and my face was not doing what it was supposed to do.”
Accidents like this can happen at any time—especially when people take part in activities where there’s a risk of dental trauma. Fortunately, dentists have many ways to treat oral injuries and restore damaged teeth. How do we do it?
It all depends on how much of the tooth is missing, whether the damage extends to the soft tissue in the tooth’s pulp, and whether the tooth’s roots are intact. If the roots are broken or seriously damaged, the tooth may need to be extracted (removed). It can then generally be replaced with a dental bridge or a state-of-the-art dental implant.
If the roots are healthy but the pulp is exposed, the tooth may become infected—a painful and potentially serious condition. A root canal is needed. In this procedure, the infected pulp tissue is removed and the “canals” (hollow spaces deep inside the tooth) are disinfected and sealed up. The tooth is then restored: A crown (cap) is generally used to replace the visible part above the gum line. A timely root canal procedure can often save a tooth that would otherwise be lost.
For moderate cracks and chips, dental veneers may be an option. Veneers are wafer-thin shells made of translucent material that go over the front surfaces of teeth. Custom-made from a model of your smile, veneers are securely cemented on to give you a restoration that looks natural and lasts for a long time.
It’s often possible to fix minor chips with dental bonding—and this type of restoration can frequently be done in just one office visit. In this procedure, layers of tooth-colored resin are applied to fill in the parts of the tooth that are missing, and then hardened by a special light. While it may not be as long-lasting as some other restoration methods, bonding is a relatively simple and inexpensive technique that can produce good results.
If you would like more information about emergency dental treatment, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can learn more by reading the Dear Doctor articles “The Field-Side Guide to Dental Injuries” and “Knocked Out Tooth.”
If you’ve ever read online that root canal therapy causes cancer, don’t be alarmed—it doesn’t. What it does do is save a deeply decayed tooth that might otherwise be lost.
Tooth decay is caused by acid produced by bacteria, which dissolves enamel to create a hole or cavity. But it doesn’t stop there: decay can move on to infect the tooth’s innermost layer, the pulp filled with nerves and blood vessels. Unchecked, the resulting infection can travel through the root canals to eventually infect the bone.
A root canal treatment stops the infection before it goes this far. After administering a local anesthetic, we drill a small hole into the tooth to access the pulp chamber and root canals. We then remove all the diseased tissue, disinfect the space and then place a filling within the empty chamber and root canals to prevent further infection. We then seal the access hole and later crown the tooth to further protect and stabilize it.
It’s no exaggeration, then, to say that root canal treatments have saved millions of teeth. So, for all its beneficial effect, why is it considered by some to pose a health danger?
The germ for this notion comes from the early 20th Century when a dentist named Weston Price theorized that leaving a “dead” organ in place would harm the body. Since a root-canaled tooth with the pulp’s living tissue removed is technically no longer viable, it fit the category of “dead” tissue. Thus, according to this theory, maladies like cancer could arise because of the “dead” tooth.
Unfortunately, this theory has found a somewhat new life recently on the internet, even though it was thoroughly investigated and debunked in the 1950s. And as late as 2013, a study published in a journal of the American Medical Association found no increased cancer risk after root canal treatment, and even some evidence for a reduced risk.
So, if your dentist recommends root canal treatment, rest assured it’s needed to save your tooth. Rather than harm your health, it will improve it.
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 Safety.”
Orthodontic braces are a familiar sight, especially among tweens and teens: metal brackets and wires attached to the front of the teeth for all to see. Now imagine the opposite: much the same hardware, but now positioned out of sight on the back of the teeth.
It's not your imagination: It's the latest development in orthodontic technology called lingual braces. Developed simultaneously by two orthodontists in Japan and Beverly Hills, these appliances are placed on the tongue or “lingual” side of the teeth rather than the traditional labial or “lip-side.”
Generally, lingual braces can correct any bite problem labial braces can. The difference lies in how each method does its job: Traditional braces exert pressure or “push” against the teeth, while lingual braces “pull” the teeth into better alignment.
So, why choose lingual over labial? For one, they're “invisible” to others: all the hardware is on the backside of the teeth, out of sight. They're also not as readily exposed to blunt force facial trauma, which can damage traditional braces (a driving impetus for the Japanese doctor to develop them for his martial arts patients, and his American counterpart for a law enforcement patient working in a rough area).
Patients may also prefer lingual braces over removable clear aligners, another popular tooth-movement option. Fixed lingual braces achieve the same quality of “invisibility” as removable aligners, but without the inconvenience of removing them as patients must with aligners for eating, snacking or cleaning.
They can, however, be costly, running 15-35% more than labial braces. Patients may also have difficulty adjusting to them because they can affect speech and tongue comfort. However, any discomfort and initial regret with choosing lingual braces tends to fade as most patients grow more accustomed to them after a week or so.
There's one other “perk” to lingual braces—unlike patients with traditional braces who have to wait for their removal to see the finished bite correction, patients with lingual braces get an unobstructed view of their progress all during wear. That can definitely boost morale during the long treatment period!
Lingual braces haven't been around long, so not every orthodontist offers them. But the list is growing, and there soon may be a provider near you for this new teeth-straightening alternative.
If you would like more information on lingual braces, 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 “Lingual Braces: A Truly Invisible Way to Straighten Teeth.”
Braces are a common part of many teenagers’ life experience — but not every bite problem is alike. Sometimes, there’s a need for accurately moving only a few teeth while making sure others don’t. This is where Temporary Anchorage Devices (TADs) can help streamline that effort and even reduce treatment time.
Orthodontics wouldn’t work at all if we didn’t already have a natural tooth movement mechanism in our mouths. That ability rests with the periodontal ligament, a tough, elastic tissue between the teeth and the bone that firmly attaches to both with tiny collagen fibers. Though quite secure in holding teeth in place, the ligament attachment also allows teeth to move in response to changes in the bone and jaw structure.
Braces are made of brackets cemented to tooth surfaces through which tiny wires pass. The wires are anchored, usually to other teeth or groups of teeth, and tightened to apply pressure against the other teeth. The ligament does the rest: as the teeth are “pressured” to move in a certain direction, new bone, ligament and an anchoring substance known as cementum forms behind it to secure the tooth in its new position.
The anchorage teeth are not intended to move. In some situations, though, it’s difficult to keep them from not moving — much like trying to keep a boat anchor from not dragging through sand on the sea bottom. TADs help alleviate this problem: it’s a mini-screw or mini-implant that’s temporarily placed in the jawbone to which the tension wire can be secured. They’re placed in the best positions for isolating the teeth that need to be moved without compromising the position of nearby teeth that don’t.
With the site numbed with a local anesthetic, we install the TAD through the gum tissue into the bone with a special device; their screw-shaped design holds them securely in place. They’re then removed when the orthodontic treatment is complete.
While a simple procedure, precise placement requires collaboration between the orthodontist and the oral surgeon or dentist who installs them. They also need special attention during daily hygiene to keep them clean. Still, with difficult bite situations they can help bring about the right outcome — a straight and beautiful smile.
If you would like more information on orthodontic treatment 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 “What are TADs?”
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