Although periodontal (gum) disease starts with the gums, the teeth may ultimately suffer. An infection can damage the gum attachment and supporting bone to the point that an affected tooth could be lost.
The main cause for gum disease is dental plaque, a bacterial biofilm that accumulates on teeth due to ineffective oral hygiene. But there can be other contributing factors that make you more susceptible to an infection. Smoking tobacco is one of the most harmful as more than half of smokers develop gum disease at some point in their life. If you’re a heavy smoker, you have double the risk of gum disease than a non-smoker.
There are several reasons why smoking increases the risk of gum disease. For one, smoking reduces the body’s production of antibodies. This diminishes the body’s ability to fight oral infections and aid healing. As a smoker, your body can’t respond adequately enough to the rapid spread of a gum infection.
Another reason for the increased risk with smoking are the chemicals in tobacco that damage the connectivity of gum tissues to teeth that keep them anchored in place. The heavier the smoking habit, the worse this particular damage is to the gums. This can accelerate the disease and make it more likely you’ll lose affected teeth.
Smoking can also interfere with getting a prompt diagnosis of gum disease because the nicotine in tobacco reduces the blood supply to the gums. Usually a person with an infection may first notice their gums are reddened or swollen, and bleed easily. Smoking, however, can give a false impression of health because it prevents the infected gum tissues from becoming swollen and are less likely to bleed. As a result, you may learn you have the disease much later rather than sooner, allowing the infection to inflict more damage.
There are ways to reduce your disease risk if you smoke. The top way: Kick the smoking habit. With time, the effects of smoking on your mouth and body will diminish, and you’ll be better able to fight infection.
You should also practice daily brushing and flossing to keep plaque at bay, followed by regular dental cleanings to remove hard to reach plaque and calculus (tartar) deposits. You should also see your dentist at the first sign of trouble with your gums.
If you would like more information on the prevention and treatment of 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 “Smoking and Gum Disease.”
Fans of the legendary rock band Steely Dan received some sad news a few months ago: Co-founder Walter Becker died unexpectedly at the age of 67. The cause of his death was an aggressive form of esophageal cancer. This disease, which is related to oral cancer, may not get as much attention as some others. Yet Becker's name is the latest addition to the list of well-known people whose lives it has cut short—including actor Humphrey Bogart, writer Christopher Hitchens, and TV personality Richard Dawson.
As its name implies, esophageal cancer affects the esophagus: the long, hollow tube that joins the throat to the stomach. Solid and liquid foods taken into the mouth pass through this tube on their way through the digestive system. Worldwide, it is the sixth most common cause of cancer deaths.
Like oral cancer, esophageal cancer generally does not produce obvious symptoms in its early stages. As a result, by the time these diseases are discovered, both types of cancer are most often in their later stages, and often prove difficult to treat successfully. Another similarity is that dentists can play an important role in oral and esophageal cancer detection.
Many people see dentists more often than any other health care professionals—at recommended twice-yearly checkups, for example. During routine examinations, we check the mouth, tongue, neck and throat for possible signs of oral cancer. These may include lumps, swellings, discolorations, and other abnormalities—which, fortunately, are most often harmless. Other symptoms, including persistent coughing or hoarseness, difficulty swallowing, and unexplained weight loss, are common to both oral and esophageal cancer. Chest pain, worsening heartburn or indigestion and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) can also alert us to the possibility of esophageal cancer.
Cancer may be a scary subject—but early detection and treatment can offer many people the best possible outcome. If you have questions about oral or esophageal cancer, call our office or schedule a consultation. You can learn more in the Dear Doctor magazine article “Oral Cancer.”
Dental implants have soared in popularity thanks to their life-likeness, functionality and durability. But these prized qualities have also created an ironic downside—people are much more likely to replace a tooth with an implant rather than go through the time and effort to preserve it.
We say downside because even though an implant is as close to a real tooth as we can now achieve in dentistry, it still can't rival the real thing. It's usually in your long-term health interest to save a tooth if reasonably possible. And, there are effective ways to do so.
Most dental problems arise from two common oral diseases. One is tooth decay, caused by contact with acid produced by bacteria living in dental plaque. We can often minimize the damage by treating the early cavities decay can create. But if we don't treat it in time, the decay can advance into the tooth's pulp chamber, putting the tooth in danger of loss.
We can intervene, though, using root canal therapy, in which we drill into the tooth to access its interior. We clean out the decayed tooth structure, remove the diseased pulp tissue and fill the empty chamber and root canals to seal the tooth and later crown it to further protect it from re-infection.
Periodontal (gum) disease also begins with bacteria, but in this case the infection is in the gum tissues. Over time the ensuing inflammation locks into battle with the plaque-fueled infection. This stalemate ultimately weakens gum attachment, the roots and supporting bone that can also increases risk for tooth loss.
We can stop a gum infection through a variety of techniques, all following a similar principle—completely removing any accumulated plaque and tartar from the teeth and gums. This stops the infection and starts the process of gum and bone healing.
You should be under no illusions that either of these approaches will be easy. Advanced tooth decay can be complex and often require the skills of an endodontist (a specialist in root canals). Likewise, gum disease may require surgical intervention. But even with these difficulties, it's usually worth it to your dental health to consider saving your tooth first before you replace it with an implant.
If you would like more information on how best to treat a problem tooth, 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 “Save a Tooth or Get an Implant?”
Bite problems aren't limited to teeth simply out of position. The problem could be some teeth aren't there—visibly, that is. They still exist below the gums and bone, but they've been crowded out and blocked from erupting. We call this condition impaction.
Any tooth can become impacted and affect the bite, but a person's smile suffers more if it involves visible front teeth. This is especially so if the teeth in question are upper canines or "eye teeth"—the smile doesn't look normal without these pointed teeth on either side of the central and lateral incisors.
Impacted teeth can also contribute to more than a cosmetic problem: they're more susceptible to abscesses (pockets of infection) or root damage both to themselves or neighboring teeth. To minimize these potential health issues, we'll often remove impacted teeth surgically (as is often done with wisdom teeth).
But because of their important role in not only appearance but also bite function, we may first try to assist impacted canines to fully erupt before considering extraction. It takes a bit of orthodontic "magic," but it can be done.
Before we can make that decision, though, we want to precisely locate the impacted teeth's positions and how it may affect other teeth. This initial evaluation, often with advanced diagnostics like CT scanning or digital x-rays, helps us determine if the impacted teeth are in a workable position to save. If they're not, we may then need to consider removing them and ultimately replacing them with a dental implant or similar restoration.
But if their position is workable and there are no other impediments, we can proceed with helping them erupt. To do this we'll have to first expose them by creating a small opening in the gums through minor surgery. We then bond a small bracket to the tooth, to which we'll attach a small chain that we then attach to orthodontic braces. This enables us to exert continuous pressure on the tooth.
Over time, the pressure coaxes the tooth to erupt. We may still need to apply other forms of orthodontics and cosmetic procedures, but using this procedure to rescue impacted canines can produce a healthier and more attractive smile.
If you would like more information on treating complex bite problems, 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 “Exposing Impacted Canines.”
Pediatricians and dentists alike recommend beginning your child's regular dental visits at an earlier age rather than later. Most say children's first visits should happen around their first birthday.
Some may question whether that's necessary given the state of a child's dental development at that age. At that stage they normally have only a few primary teeth, which will eventually give way to their permanent set soon enough.
But regular dental visits can make a positive difference even at that early age. Here are 3 oral health areas that could benefit from seeing the dentist by Age One.
Protecting primary teeth from decay. It's true that primary teeth don't last long when compared to a normal lifespan. But during their short tenure, they do play a critical role in a child's health and development. Not only do they provide a child dental function for eating, speaking and smiling, they also preserve the space for the permanent teeth that will succeed them. Without them, permanent teeth can erupt out of position to form a poor bite (or malocclusion). That's why early dental care to prevent and treat decay in primary teeth helps them remain for as long as they should.
Detecting developing malocclusions. A malocclusion doesn't form overnight—there can be subtle signs of its development during early childhood. A dentist, especially a pediatric dentist or orthodontist, can often detect those signs before the malocclusion fully develops (one reason why every child should have an orthodontic evaluation around age 6). With early detection, an orthodontist can use interventional techniques that will lessen or even stop a malocclusion from forming. As a result, later orthodontic treatment may not be as extensive—or expensive—as it could have been.
Developing a healthy dentist-patient relationship. Dental anxiety is a real problem for many adults—in some cases it can be so severe they avoid professional dental care altogether. The roots of that dental fear often go back to unpleasant experiences during childhood. Starting dental visits when a child is very young appears to minimize the development of dental anxiety. A young child, especially visiting a "kid-friendly" dental clinic, will more likely view dental care as a routine part of life and will less likely be afraid.
If you would like more information on dental care for children, 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 “Age One Dental Visit: Why It's Important for Your Baby.”
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