Posts for category: Oral Health
You have a great smile: beautiful white teeth all perfectly aligned. But unbeknownst to you, periodontal (gum) disease might even now be damaging your gum tissues, setting the stage for future tooth and bone loss — and a ruined smile.
While it’s easy to miss the early stage of this disease caused by bacterial plaque on tooth surfaces, there are a few signs if you pay close attention. Bleeding gums after moderate brushing or flossing could indicate normally resilient gum tissues have begun to weaken. You may also notice a slight redness and swelling around the margins of the gums and a bad taste or breath. As it progresses, you may experience painful abscesses (infected pockets that develop between the gums and tooth) and loose teeth, a late sign of tissue detachment and bone loss. If you are a smoker, nicotine reduces swelling and bleeding of the gums, removing signs you have a disease. If you smoke, you need to see your dentist regularly.
While renewed daily oral hygiene is important for stopping gum disease, you may also need professional care to bring it under control. The main treatment calls for the manual removal of plaque and calculus (hardened deposits of plaque) that are sustaining the infection. Dentists and hygienists both can perform scaling, which removes plaque and calculus at or just below the gum line, and root planing to clean accessible root surfaces.
In more advanced cases, though, you may need the services of a periodontist, a specialist in treating diseased or injured gums, bone and other connective tissues that support the teeth. They’re also skilled in more advanced treatments like gum flap surgery that more fully exposes a tooth’s root area for plaque and calculus (or tartar) removal, or tissue grafting procedures that improve the health and appearance of damaged gums.
If you suspect you have gum disease, the place to start is with your family dentist. They can determine if your case will respond to basic scaling, root planing or antibiotic treatment. If the disease appears more advanced or with complications, they will most likely refer you to a periodontist for treatment.
If you’ve already seen bleeding, swelling or redness, see your dentist as soon as possible. The sooner you begin treatment for any case of gum disease, the less likely it will lead to the loss not only of your teeth but your beautiful smile.
If you would like more information on the treatment of periodontal (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 “When to See a Periodontist.”
Many people have questions about the proper use of antibiotics — especially today, as the overuse of these medications has become a concern. It isn’t necessary for most people to take antibiotics before having a dental procedure. But for a few — notably, those with particular heart conditions and, in some cases, joint replacements — pre-medication is advisable. The question may be even more confusing now, because the standard recommendations have recently changed — so let’s try and sort things out.
First, why would anyone need antibiotics before dental treatment? Essentially, it’s because of the chance that an open wound could allow bacteria from the mouth to enter the bloodstream. For people in good health, the body is capable of quickly containing and neutralizing the bacterial exposure. But people with some types of heart disease, heart transplants, and/or total joint replacements have a greater likelihood of developing a bacterial infection, which can be dangerous — or even life-threatening. The same may be true of people whose immune systems are compromised.
At one time, people with a broad range of heart problems and artificial joints were advised to pre-medicate; today, new research indicates that fewer people need to take this step. Antibiotics are currently recommended before dental procedures if you have:
- An artificial heart valve, or a heart valve repaired with artificial material
- A history of endocarditis
- A heart transplant with abnormal heart valve function
- Cyanotic congenital heart disease (a birth defect where blood oxygen levels are lower than normal) that hasn’t been fully repaired — including children with surgical shunts and conduits
- A congenital heart defect that has been completely repaired with artificial material or with a device — but only for the first six months after the repair procedure
- Repaired congenital heart disease with residual defects, such as leakage or abnormal flow
In addition, not everyone who has an artificial joint needs antibiotic premedication. Instead, your health care providers will rely on your individual medical history to determine whether this step is required in your situation. However, having a compromised immune system (due to diabetes, cancer, arthritis, chemotherapy and other factors) is still an indication that antibiotics may be needed.
The question of whether or not to pre-medicate is an important one — so it’s vital that you share all relevant medical information with your doctors and dentists, and make sure everyone is in the loop. That way, the best decisions can be made regarding your treatment.
Tooth sensitivity can be disheartening: you’re always on your guard with what you eat or drink, and perhaps you’ve even given up on favorite foods or beverages.
The most common cause for this painful sensitivity is dentin exposure caused by receding gums. Dentin contains tiny open structures called tubules that transmit changes in temperature or pressure to the nerves in the pulp, which in turn signal pain to the brain. The enamel that covers the dentin, along with the gum tissues, creates a barrier between the environment and dentin to prevent it from becoming over-stimulated.
Due to such causes as aggressive over-brushing or periodontal (gum) disease, the gum tissues can recede from the teeth. This exposes portions of the dentin not covered by enamel to the effects of hot or cold. The result is an over-stimulation of the dentin when encountering normal environmental conditions.
So, what can be done to relieve painful tooth sensitivity? Here are 3 ways to stop or minimize the symptoms.
Change your brushing habits. As mentioned, brushing too hard and/or too often can contribute to gum recession. The whole purpose of brushing (and flossing) is to remove bacterial plaque that’s built up on tooth surfaces; a gentle action with a soft brush is sufficient. Anything more than two brushings a day is usually too much — you should also avoid brushing just after consuming acidic foods or liquids to give saliva time to neutralize acid and restore minerals to the enamel.
Include fluoride in your dental care. Fluoride has been proven to strengthen enamel. Be sure, then, to use toothpastes and other hygiene products that contain fluoride. With severe sensitivity you may also benefit from a fluoride varnish applied by a dentist to your teeth that not only strengthens enamel but also provides a barrier to exposed dentin.
Seek treatment for dental disease. Tooth sensitivity is often linked to tooth decay or periodontal (gum) disease. Treating dental disease may include plaque removal, gum surgery to restore receded gums, a filling to remove decay or root canal therapy when the decay gets to the tooth pulp. These treatments could all have an effect on reducing or ending your tooth sensitivity.
If you would like more information on the causes and treatments for sensitive teeth, 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 “Tooth Sensitivity.”
As with the rest of the body, tooth pain is an indication that something’s wrong. While the exact cause requires a dental exam, the location, quality and duration of the pain could narrow the possibilities. With that in mind, here are 3 types of tooth pain and what it might be telling you.
Sensitivity. Pain or discomfort when you eat or drink cold foods or bite down could mean you have a small area of decay in the tooth, a loose filling or an exposed root surface from gum recession. Dental work to repair a decayed tooth or filling could alleviate the pain; in the case of gum recession, you may need to reduce overaggressive brushing or seek treatment for periodontal (gum) disease, the two main causes of the condition.
Dull or lingering pain. A dull ache in the rear sinus area could indicate a problem with a back tooth — they share the same nerve pathways as the sinuses, so you may be feeling referred pain. In the case of lingering pain after eating or drinking something hot or cold, there may be decay within the inner pulp chamber of the tooth that’s damaging or even killing the nerve tissue. If so, a root canal treatment might be in order.
Sharp pain. That sudden, excruciating pain when you bite down could mean you’re experiencing advanced decay, a loose filling or possibly a cracked tooth. If the pain seems to radiate from the gums — and they’re swollen and sensitive — you may have developed an abscess brought on by periodontal (gum) disease. In all these cases, appropriate dental treatment like decay removal and filling, root canal treatment or plaque removal may be necessary, depending on the cause and extent of the problem.
Regardless of what kind of pain you’re feeling, you should see us as soon as possible — in many situations waiting will only make the problem worse. The sooner we discover the cause, the sooner we can begin the right treatment to solve the issue and alleviate your pain.
If you would like more information on the causes and treatment of tooth pain, 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 “Tooth Pain? Don’t Wait!”
While most dental problems are caused by disease or trauma, sometimes the root problem is psychological. Such is the case with bulimia nervosa, an eating disorder that could contribute to dental erosion.
Dental erosion is the loss of mineral structure from tooth enamel caused by elevated levels of acid in the mouth, which can increase the risk for decay and eventual tooth loss. While elevated acid levels are usually related to inadequate oral hygiene or over-consumption of acidic foods and beverages, the practice of self-induced vomiting after food binging by bulimic patients may also cause it. Some of the strong stomach acid brought up by vomiting may remain in the mouth afterward, which can be particularly damaging to tooth enamel.
It’s often possible to detect bulimia-related erosion during dental exams. The bottom teeth are often shielded by the tongue during vomiting, so erosion may be more pronounced on the unshielded upper front teeth. The salivary glands may become enlarged, giving a puffy appearance to the sides of the face below the ears. The back of the mouth can also appear red and swollen from the use of fingers or objects to induce vomiting.
Self-induced vomiting may not be the only cause for dental erosion for bulimics. Because the disorder causes an unhealthy focus on body image, bulimics may become obsessed with oral hygiene and go overboard with brushing and flossing. Aggressive brushing (especially just after throwing up when the tooth enamel may be softened) can also damage enamel and gum tissue.
Treatment must involve both a short — and long-term approach. Besides immediate treatment for dental erosion, a bulimic patient can minimize the effect of acid after vomiting by not brushing immediately but rinsing instead with water, mixed possibly with a little baking soda to help neutralize the acid. In the long-term, though, the eating disorder itself must be addressed. Your family doctor is an excellent starting point; you can also gain a great deal of information, both about eating disorders and treatment referrals, from the National Eating Disorders Association at their website, www.nationaleatingdisorders.org.
The effects of bulimia are devastating to mental and physical well-being, and no less to dental health. The sooner the disorder can be treated the better the person’s chance of restoring health to their mind, body — and mouth.
If you would like more information on the effect of eating disorders on oral health, 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 “Bulimia, Anorexia & Oral Health.”