One of the most important revolutions in healthcare in recent decades is the increasing use of lasers. Now, laser technology is making a showing in dental care for the treatment of periodontal (gum) disease.
Lasers (an acronym for "Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation") narrowly focus and amplify light within a small area. First developed in the early 1960s, laser technology rapidly advanced in the ensuing decades with more compact and precise devices that were eventually safe and effective for many types of medical procedures. Its remarkable features are now available for the primary focus of gum disease treatment—removing bacterial plaque.
Plaque is a thin, built-up film of bacteria and food particles on tooth and gum surfaces that serves as a haven for the bacteria that cause gum disease. The continuing presence of plaque and calculus (tartar) enables the infection to thrive and advance within the gum tissues, ultimately damaging them along with supporting bone. As the tissues weaken and bone volume diminishes, the teeth are at greater risk for loss.
It's necessary, therefore, first and foremost to remove all detectable plaque and calculus to stop the infection. This is traditionally done with special hand tools called scalers used to manually remove plaque, or with ultrasonic equipment that vibrates plaque loose to be flushed away with water. These procedures can take numerous sessions and may result in some minor post-procedural discomfort and bleeding during the cleaning.
But lasers specifically designed for plaque removal can minimize tissue damage and resulting discomfort. Because the particular laser light used reacts only with plaque and diseased tissue, it can remove them without disturbing nearby healthy tissue usually more efficiently than traditional scaling. Dentists who've used the technology frequently report less bleeding and higher patient satisfaction.
But before lasers for gum disease treatment are widely adopted, the procedure must undergo further scrutiny. Reports from dentists notwithstanding, not enough research studies have been performed to date that meet the necessary scientific criteria. But if the evidence so far from the field holds up, it's quite possible lasers will one day become a regular part of dental practice for treating gum disease.
If you would like more information on treating 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 “Lasers Versus Traditional Cleanings for Treating Gum Disease.”
Edentulism, the loss of all of a person’s teeth, is more than an appearance problem. As one in four Americans over 65 can attest, total tooth loss can lead to emotional suffering, social embarrassment and a lack of nutrition caused by limited food choices.
But there are solutions like the removable denture, an effective dental restoration for more than a century. In its current advanced form, the removable denture is truly a functional, affordable and attractive way to restore lost teeth.
Creating an effective denture begins first by taking detailed impressions of a patient’s gum ridges. We use the measurements obtained from this process to create a plastic resin base colored to resemble the natural gums. Using old photos and other resources documenting how the patient looked with teeth, we choose the best size and shape of porcelain teeth and then position them onto the base.
Finally, we fine-tune the dentures the first time they’re in the patient’s mouth to make sure they have a secure fit and a balanced bite when the jaws come together. We also want to be sure the dentures are attractive and blend well with other facial features. The result: a new set of teeth that can do the job of the old ones and look nearly as real and attractive.
Dentures, though, do have one major drawback: they can’t stop bone loss, a common consequence of missing teeth. In fact, they may even accelerate bone loss due to the pressure they bring to bear on the gum ridges. Continuing bone loss could eventually cause their once secure fit to slacken, making them less functional and much more uncomfortable to wear.
But a recent innovation could put the brakes on bone loss for a denture wearer. By incorporating small implants imbedded at various places along the gums, a denture with compatible fittings connects securely with the implants to support the denture rather than the gum ridges. This not only relieves pressure on the gums, but the titanium within the implants attracts bone cells and stimulates their growth.
Thanks to this and other modern advances, dentures continue to be a solid choice for tooth replacement. Not only can they restore a lost smile, they can improve overall health and well-being too.
If you would like more information on dental restorations for missing 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 “Removable Full Dentures.”
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.”
During pregnancy, your body isn’t the only part of your life that changes. Instead of “me,” you’re now thinking about “us”—you and the new person growing inside you. Because of this change in focus you may be re-examining your current habits to see if any could adversely affect your baby.
If you’re concerned your regular dental visits might be one of these, don’t be. Both the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) and the American Dental Association (ADA) recommend continuing regular dental exams and cleanings even during pregnancy.
In fact, professional dental care is often more important during pregnancy. Because of hormonal changes, you may develop food cravings for more carbohydrates like sugar. Unfortunately, eating more sugar could increase your risk for dental diseases like tooth decay and periodontal (gum) disease.
These same hormonal changes can also make you more prone to gum disease. There’s even a specific form of it known as pregnancy gingivitis that often occurs in expectant mothers. You may also experience “pregnancy tumors,” large, reddened areas of swelling on the gums.
To decrease your risk of pregnancy-related dental disease, you should certainly keep up your regular dental visits—and more if you begin to notice signs like swollen or bleeding gums. And although it’s usually best to postpone elective procedures like cosmetic dental work, you should be able to safely undergo any essential treatment for disease even if it requires local anesthesia. But do discuss any proposed dental work with both your dentist and obstetrician to be sure.
There are also things you can do for yourself during pregnancy that support your dental health. Be sure you’re practicing good oral hygiene habits like daily brushing and flossing. And by all means eat a well-balanced diet and restrict your sugar intake if at all possible. Taking care of these things will help you avoid dental problems and help make this memorable time in your life as joyous as possible.
If you would like more information on caring for your teeth during pregnancy, 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 “Dental Care During Pregnancy.”
Placing a dental implant within the jawbone requires a surgical procedure. For most people it’s a relatively minor affair, but for some with certain health conditions it might be otherwise. Because of their condition they might have an increased risk for a bacterial infection afterward that could interfere with the implant’s integration with the bone and lead to possible failure.
To lower this risk, dentists for many years have routinely prescribed an antibiotic for patients considered at high-risk for infection to take before their implant surgery. But there’s been a lively debate among health practitioners about the true necessity for this practice and whether it’s worth the possible side effects that can accompany taking antibiotics.
While the practice still continues, current guidelines now recommend it for fewer health conditions. The American Dental Association (ADA) together with the American Heart Association (AHA) now recommend antibiotics only for surgical patients who have prosthetic heart valves, a history of infective endocarditis, a heart transplant or certain congenital heart conditions.
But patients with prosthetic joint replacements, who were once included in the recommendation for pre-surgical antibiotics, are no longer in that category. Even so, some orthopedic surgeons continue to recommend it for their joint replacement patients out of concern that a post-surgical infection could adversely affect their replaced joints.
But while these areas of disagreement about pre-surgical antibiotics still continue, a consensus may be emerging about a possible “sweet spot” in administering the therapy. Evidence from recent studies indicates just a small dose of antibiotics administered an hour before surgery may be sufficient to reduce the risk of infection-related implant failure with only minimal risk of side effects from the drug.
Because pre-surgical antibiotic therapy can be a complicated matter, it’s best that you discuss with both the physician caring for your health condition and your dentist about whether you should undergo this option to reduce the infection risk with your own implant surgery. Still, if all the factors surrounding your health indicate it, this antibiotic therapy might help you avoid losing an implant to infection.
If you would like more information on antibiotics before implant surgery, 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 “Implants & Antibiotics: Lowering Risk of Implant Failure.”
We breathe every moment of every day and we’re hardly aware of it most of the time. But if you take the time to focus, you’ll find two possible pathways for your breath: through the nose or through the mouth.
While either pathway provides the air exchange needed to live, nose breathing offers better health benefits. Air passes through the nasal passages, which filter out many harmful particles and allergens. The mucous membranes in the nose also humidify the air and help produce heart-friendly nitric oxide.
Nose breathing also plays a role in your child’s facial and jaw development: the tongue rests on the roof of the mouth (the palate) and becomes a kind of mold around which the developing upper jaw can form. With chronic mouth breathing, however, the tongue rests just behind the lower teeth, depriving the upper jaw of its normal support. This could result in the development of a poor bite (malocclusion).
To avoid this and other undesirable outcomes, you should have your child examined if you notice them breathing mostly through the mouth, particularly at rest. Since chronic mouth breathing usually occurs because of an anatomical obstruction making nose breathing more difficult, it’s usually best to see a physician or an ear, nose and throat (ENT) specialist first for evaluation and treatment.
It’s also a good idea to obtain an orthodontic evaluation of any effects on their bite development, such as the upper jaw growing too narrowly. If caught early enough, an orthodontist can correct this with a palatal expander, a device that exerts gradual outward pressure on the jaw and stimulating it to grow wider.
Another bite problem associated with chronic mouth breathing is misalignment of the jaws when closed. An orthodontist can address this with a set of removable plates worn in the mouth. As the jaws work the angled plates force the lower jaw forward, thus encouraging it to grow in the direction that best aligns with the upper jaw.
Any efforts to correct a child’s breathing habits can pay great dividends in their overall health. It could likewise head off possible bite problems that can be both extensive and costly to treat in the future.
Is having good oral hygiene important to kissing? Who's better to answer that question than Vivica A. Fox? Among her other achievements, the versatile actress won the “Best Kiss” honor at the MTV Movie Awards, for a memorable scene with Will Smith in the 1996 blockbuster Independence Day. When Dear Doctor magazine asked her, Ms. Fox said that proper oral hygiene was indeed essential. Actually, she said:
"Ooooh, yes, yes, yes, Honey, 'cause Baby, if you kiss somebody with a dragon mouth, my God, it's the worst experience ever as an actor to try to act like you enjoy it!"
And even if you're not on stage, it's no fun to kiss someone whose oral hygiene isn't what it should be. So what's the best way to step up your game? Here's how Vivica does it:
“I visit my dentist every three months and get my teeth cleaned, I floss, I brush, I just spent two hundred bucks on an electronic toothbrush — I'm into dental hygiene for sure.”
Well, we might add that you don't need to spend tons of money on a toothbrush — after all, it's not the brush that keeps your mouth healthy, but the hand that holds it. And not everyone needs to come in as often every three months. But her tips are generally right on.
For proper at-home oral care, nothing beats brushing twice a day for two minutes each time, and flossing once a day. Brushing removes the sticky, bacteria-laden plaque that clings to your teeth and causes tooth decay and gum disease — not to mention malodorous breath. Don't forget to brush your tongue as well — it can also harbor those bad-breath bacteria.
While brushing is effective, it can't reach the tiny spaces in between teeth and under gums where plaque bacteria can hide. But floss can: That's what makes it so important to getting your mouth really clean.
Finally, regular professional checkups and cleanings are an essential part of good oral hygiene. Why? Because even the most dutiful brushing and flossing can't remove the hardened coating called tartar that eventually forms on tooth surfaces. Only a trained health care provider with the right dental tools can! And when you come in for a routine office visit, you'll also get a thorough checkup that can detect tooth decay, gum disease, and other threats to your oral health.
Bad breath isn't just a turn-off for kissing — It can indicate a possible problem in your mouth. So listen to what award-winning kisser Vivica Fox says: Paying attention to your oral hygiene can really pay off! For more information, contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can read the entire interview with Vivica A. Fox in Dear Doctor's latest issue.
Although it’s a natural part of dental development, teething is no picnic for your baby. This process in which each of their twenty primary teeth gradually erupt through the gums usually begins around their sixth to ninth month and may not end until around age three.
These periodic tooth eruptions can cause your baby to bite, gnaw, drool or rub their ears. Teething can also disrupt sleeping patterns, decrease appetite and cause gum swelling and pain that can turn your otherwise happy baby into an unhappy one.
Managing these teething episodes is one of the most common topics parents bring up with their dentists. Since teething is supposed to happen, there’s no need for medical intervention unless the child is also experiencing diarrhea, rashes, fever or prolonged irritability associated with teething episodes. In most cases, the best you can do is to make your child more comfortable. Here are a few things to help you do just that.
Provide cold items for gnawing. Rubber teething rings, wet wash cloths or pacifiers that have been chilled can give your child something to gnaw on and ease the pressure of sore gums while the chilled temperatures help numb pain. Be sure, though, that the items aren’t frozen because extremely cold temperatures can burn the skin.
Gum massage. You can massage your child’s gums with one of your fingers during a teething episode to counteract the throbbing pressure coming from the erupting tooth. Just be sure your finger is clean and don’t use any numbing agents unless advised by your dentist or pediatrician.
OTC medication. You can ease mild to moderate teething pain with over-the-counter pain relievers like acetaminophen or ibuprofen in dosages appropriate for your child’s age. But don’t apply rubbing alcohol to the gums or massage in any pain reliever—both practices can burn the skin. And, as mentioned before, only apply numbing agents like Benzocaine with the advice and supervision of a healthcare professional.
Besides these practices, be sure to keep up regular dental checkups to monitor the teething process and ensure all is going normally. And remember: though it may seem harrowing at times, the teething process won’t last forever.
If you would like more information on easing the effects of teething, 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 “Teething Troubles: How to Help Keep Your Baby Comfortable.”
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