Your teeth are meant to last a lifetime. Even with wear and tear from years of eating and biting they can continue to function properly and look attractive well into your senior years.
Teeth are resilient thanks in part to enamel, the hardest substance in the human body. But the gums also contribute to this resilience: besides attractively framing the teeth, they protect the dentin and roots below the enamel covering.
Unfortunately, the gums can shrink back or “recede” from their normal place. Not only does this look unattractive, the recession can also expose teeth to disease and cause tooth sensitivity to temperature changes or biting pressure.
There are a number of causes for gum recession, some of which you may have little control over. If, for example, your teeth come in off center from their bony housing, the gum tissues may not develop around them properly. You might also have inherited a thinner type of gum tissue from your parents: thinner tissues are more delicate and susceptible to recession.
But there are other causes for which you have more control. Over-aggressive brushing (too hard for too long), ironically, does more harm than good as it can injure your gums and cause them to recede. More likely, though, your recession is a direct result of neglecting proper hygiene for your teeth and gums.
When teeth aren't properly cleaned through daily brushing and flossing, a thin film of bacteria and food remnant called plaque builds up on tooth surfaces. This can trigger periodontal (gum) disease, which subsequently causes the gum tissues to detach from the teeth and often recede.
To reduce your risk of gum disease, you should gently but thoroughly brush and floss daily, and visit us for cleanings and checkups at least twice a year. If you have a poor bite (malocclusion), consider orthodontic treatment: malocclusions make it easier for plaque to accumulate and harder to remove.
Above all, if you begin to see signs of gum problems — swelling, bleeding or pain — see us promptly for an examination and treatment. Dealing with these issues early is the best way to ensure your gums continue to do their jobs for the long-term.
If you've had periodontal (gum) disease, you've no doubt experienced gum inflammation, bleeding or pain. But your gums may not be the only mouth structures under assault — the disease may be damaging the underlying support bone.
Although easing soft tissue symptoms is important, our primary focus is to protect all your teeth's supporting structures — the gums, the attaching ligaments and, of course, the bone. To do so we must stop the infection and reduce the risk of reoccurrence.
Stopping gum disease depends on removing its source — plaque, a thin biofilm of bacteria and food particles accumulating on tooth surfaces, due to poor oral hygiene. We must remove it mechanically — with hand instruments known as scalers or ultrasonic equipment that vibrates the plaque and calculus (hardened plaque deposits) loose.
It's not always a straightforward matter, though, especially if the diseased gum tissues have pulled away from the teeth. The slight natural gap between teeth can widen into voids known as periodontal pockets; they fill with infection and can extend several millimeters below the gum line. We must thoroughly cleanse these pockets, sometimes with invasive techniques like root planing (removing plaque from the roots) or surgical access. You may also need tissue grafting to regenerate gum attachment to the teeth.
One of the more difficult scenarios involves pockets where roots divide, known as furcations. This can cause cave-like voids of bone loss. Unless we treat it, the continuing bone loss will eventually lead to tooth loss. Besides plaque removal, it may also be prudent in these cases to use antimicrobial products (such as a mouthrinse with chlorhexidine) or antibiotics like tetracycline to reduce bacterial growth.
Perhaps the most important factor is what happens after treatment. To maintain gum health and reduce the chances of re-infection, you'll need to practice diligent daily hygiene, including brushing, flossing and any prescribed rinses. You should also keep up a regular schedule of office cleanings and checkups, sometimes more than twice a year depending on your degree of disease.
If you would like more information on treatments for 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 “Treating Difficult Areas of Periodontal Disease.”
Orthodontic treatment is a big investment. But given the benefits for future good health and a more attractive smile, it's well worth it.
In the here and now, though, braces wearers face a different threat to their dental well-being — dental disease. Wearing braces can actually increase the risk of disease and make it more difficult to fight.
Tooth decay and periodontal (gum) disease, the two most common forms of dental disease, usually arise from plaque, a thin film of bacteria and food particles on tooth surfaces. The bacteria produce acid, which erodes enamel and makes the teeth susceptible to decay. Certain bacteria can also infect the gums and eventually weaken their attachment to teeth. Thorough brushing and flossing everyday removes this disease-triggering plaque buildup.
But braces' hardware can make brushing and flossing more difficult. The brackets attached to the teeth and wires laced through them make it more difficult for floss and brush bristles to access all the areas around the teeth. Plaque can build up in certain spots; it's estimated braces wearers have two to three times the plaque of a person not wearing braces. Acid can also remain in contact with some of the enamel surface for too long.
It's important, therefore, if you wear braces to make a concerted effort to brush and floss thoroughly. Besides improving technique and taking more time, you might also consider additional aids. You can obtain toothbrushes specially designed for use with braces, as well as floss holders or threaders that make it easier to access between teeth. Another flossing alternative is an oral irrigator that sprays water under pressure between teeth is an alternative to flossing.
As a precaution against acid damage, we can boost enamel protection with additional fluoride applied to your teeth. We may also prescribe antibacterial rinses to keep the bacteria population low.
Above all, be sure to look out for signs of disease like swollen or bleeding gums or pain. As soon as you sense something out of the ordinary, be sure and contact us.
If you would like more information on keeping your teeth disease-free while wearing 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 “Caring for Teeth During Orthodontic Treatment.”
Protecting a child's primary (“baby”) teeth from tooth decay should be a top priority. If one is lost prematurely due to decay, it could cause the permanent tooth to misalign when it comes in.
The basic prevention strategy for every child is daily brushing and flossing and regular dental visits. But children at higher risk for decay may need more: additional fluoride applied to teeth enamel during office visits.
This natural mineral has been shown to strengthen enamel, teeth's protective layer against decay, especially during its early development. Enamel is composed of calcium and phosphate minerals interwoven to form a crystalline structure called hydroxyapatite. Fluoride joins with this structure and changes it to fluorapatite, which is more resistant to mouth acid than the original structure.
We mostly receive fluoride through fluoridated drinking water and dental care products like toothpaste. Topical fluoride takes it a step further with a stronger dose than found in either of these sources. It can be applied with a foam, varnish or gel using an isolation tray (foam or gel) or painted onto the enamel (varnish or gel).
But does topical fluoride effectively reduce the occurrence of decay? Research indicates yes: a recent review of 28 studies involving over 9,000 children found an average 28% reduction in decayed teeth in children who underwent topical fluoride treatments.
There is, though, one potential side effect: children who swallow the fluoride substance can become sick and experience headache, stomach pain or vomiting. This can be avoided with proper precautions when applying it; the American Dental Association also recommends using only varnish for children younger than 6 years. It's also recommended that children receiving gel or foam not eat or drink at least thirty minutes after the treatment (those who receive the varnish aren't restricted in this way).
Topical fluoride is most effective as part of an overall prevention strategy. Besides daily hygiene and regular dental visits, you can also help reduce your child's decay risk by limiting the amount of sugar in their diet. Sealants, which are applied to the nooks and grooves of teeth where plaque can build up, may also help.
One of the unfortunate aspects of aging is tooth wear. Depending on your diet, years of biting and chewing can cause enamel along the biting surfaces to erode. Your body also can't replace enamel — so when it comes to teeth it's not a question of if, but how much your teeth will wear during your lifetime.
To make matters worse, certain conditions cause tooth wear to accelerate. Teeth softened by acids or tooth decay, for example, erode faster than healthier teeth. So will grinding habits: often fueled by stress, these include chewing on hard items like nails, pencils or bobby pins.
You may also grind your teeth, usually while you sleep. Normal biting and chewing produces pressure of about 13 to 23 pounds per square inch: grinding your teeth at night can well exceed this, even up into the hundreds of pounds.
There are some things we can do to alleviate these issues. For clenching and grinding habits, one primary step is to address stress through counseling or biofeedback therapy. For nighttime teeth grinding we can create a bite guard to wear while you sleep that will prevent your teeth from generating abnormal forces.
Finally, it's important that you take care of your teeth through daily oral hygiene, regular office cleanings and checkups, and a nutritious diet for maintaining strong bones and teeth. Keeping your teeth free from diseases that could compromise your enamel as well as other aspects of your mouth will help them stay as strong as possible.
If you would like more information on slowing the rate of tooth wear as you age, 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 “How and Why Teeth Wear.”
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