Posts for: September, 2018
Gum disease is a bigger problem than you might think. More than half of all adults over age 30 have it, and that figure jumps to 70% of adults over 65. If left untreated, gum (periodontal) disease can eventually loosen teeth and cause them to fall out. It can also cause health issues outside of the mouth, including an increased risk of heart disease and other systemic health conditions.
But the good news is that gum disease can be treated—and even better, prevented! Since September is National Gum Care Month, it’s a good time to answer some frequently asked questions about gum disease:
What causes gum disease?
Gum disease is caused by certain types of harmful oral bacteria that live in a sticky film called dental plaque that collects on teeth both above and below the gum line. If this film is not cleaned effectively each day, it can eventually harden into a substance called tartar that can only be removed by a dental professional. As your body tries to fight the bacteria and the toxins they produce, your gums can become inflamed and may start to pull away from the teeth. Eventually, bone beneath the gums can start to break down and with continued bone loss, the teeth could be lost.
How do I know if I have it?
Gum disease doesn’t always produce symptoms—especially in smokers. Smoking hides the symptoms of gum disease because nicotine reduces blood flow to the area. However, there are things you should look out for. Gingivitis, a mild form of gum disease, can produce red and/or puffy gums that bleed when you brush or floss. Signs of periodontitis, a more serious form of the disease, include gum recession, bad mouth odors or tastes, and tooth looseness. But the only way to truly know if you have gum disease is to come in for an exam.
What can I do about it?
If you have gingivitis, a professional teeth cleaning and a renewed commitment to oral hygiene at home—including daily flossing and rinsing with antibacterial mouthwash—may be all you need to turn the situation around. Periodontitis may require a variety of treatments, ranging from special cleaning procedures of the tooth root surfaces to gum surgery. The first step toward controlling gum disease is visiting the dental office for an exam.
How can I prevent it?
Regular professional teeth cleanings and meticulous oral hygiene at home are your best defenses against gum disease. Avoid sugary drinks and snacks—which feed the disease-causing bacteria in your mouth—and tobacco in all forms. If you have diabetes, do your best to manage it well because uncontrolled diabetes can worsen periodontal disease.
Cancer treatment can be an all-out battle with intense side effects for your entire body. One particular area that can suffer is your mouth.
Chemotherapy and radiation target and destroy cancer cells, which can lead to non-cancerous cells caught in the crossfire and also destroyed. The salivary glands in the mouth are prone to such damage, which could greatly impact your ability to ward off dental disease.
Saliva, what salivary glands produce, plays a major role in oral health. The bodily fluid disseminates antibodies throughout the mouth that fight disease-causing bacteria. It also neutralizes acid, which can erode tooth enamel, and helps restore lost minerals to the enamel.
If the salivary glands become damaged, however, they may produce less saliva and create a condition called xerostomia or “dry mouth.” This is a common occurrence for cancer patients, which can rob them of saliva’s benefits and make them more susceptible to tooth decay or periodontal (gum) disease. The end result could be tooth loss.
There are things you and your dentist can do to prevent this. First, have a complete dental checkup before undergoing cancer treatment. If at all possible have any necessary dental work undertaken (with adequate recovery time afterward) before beginning chemo or radiation. Your dentist and oncologist (cancer specialist) may need to coordinate any planned dental work.
You should also practice daily oral hygiene with brushing and flossing, along with keeping up your regular dental cleanings. This will prevent the buildup on teeth of bacterial plaque, which in turn will reduce your chances for dental disease. Your dentist may also prescribe antibacterial as well as fluoride mouth rinses to help limit the growth of oral bacteria.
To minimize dry mouth, increase your water consumption as much as possible. You may also use saliva boosters like xylitol, an alcohol-based sweetener found in many gums or mints that promotes salivation (it also deters oral bacterial growth).
And don’t forget to maintain a healthy diet, which will not only benefit your stamina during cancer treatment but can also help you maintain better dental health. Providing good care for your mouth during this trying time will help ensure your teeth and gums stay as healthy as possible.
If you would like more information on oral 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 “Oral Health During Cancer Treatment.”
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.